Keeping Mum
Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Baby, Talk!

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"You la-la-la mum banana give la-la-la me-Mum!"

Luckily for parents of preschoolers, toddler-speak is learnt on the job. And there's a special feeling that comes about when you finally feel as though you're having a conversation with your toddler, whether or not it would make sense to anyone else (and it usually wouldn't).

Today I was lying down with my toddler and, for all intents and purposes, having a real conversation. Okay, so I wouldn't probably be talking about when the Wiggles would be on with most other people. I wouldn't be playing "1, 2 , 3, Wake up Jeff!" with them, or trying to explain why I couldn't cut his fingernails for the 20th time today.

But despite the strange vocabulary - the "la-la-las" stringing words together, constant Wiggles references and the crazy repetitiveness - it was taking on the shape of a regular conversation and that can only be a good thing.

Perhaps it can be chalked up to the fact he's a first child, used to having a lot of adults speaking to him. It is also true that being at home with kids all day can be lonely and sometimes the only conversation you find yourself having is with a perplexed looking two year old. ("You wouldn't understand that sweetheart, would you? Why watching Mum go A over T because she slid over on your toy tractor isn't cause for general hilarity?")

I must admit though, that there are some words the whole family has started using as a result of toddler speak - "mice" for nice, "trees" for broccoli, "gah-leez" for glasses, "huggle mcsnuggle buggle" for hug (thanks to my sisters for that one). The list is endless. But is it a good thing that we're all using incorrect langauage instead of insisting on correct words?

Relatives of my sister disagree with using any kind of baby talk whatsoever. They simply talk to their kids like they are adults and wait for them to make the connections.

At the other extreme are the mothers who "goo-goo gaa gaa" to their toddlers, speaking as if through a foghorn and slower than a 90-year-old in order to be clearly understood.

So what do the experts say on the matter of baby talk?

A recent University of Seattle study found that across cultures, women and men distort their speech the same way to speak to babies and as a result babies are able to learn faster because they are able to pick out words specifically directed at them.

While clearly taking silly-talk to school might not be a great thing, it sounds to me like talking a lot to your child - regardless of how - is going to help them.

Check this out:

"According to research conducted by Janellen Huttenlocher, the actual size of a toddler's vocabularly is strongly correlated with how much her mother talks to her. Dr. Huttenlocher found at twenty months old, the children of chatty mothers averaged 131 more words than the children of mothers who didn't speak much. At two years of age, the gap more than doubled to 295 words.

"Other researchers have found that talking to children a lot not only affects their vocabularly, but also their intelligence. Betty Hart, PhD, and Todd R. Risley, PhD, observed how parents interacted with their one- and two-year-old children. At age three, the ones who scored the highest on intelligence quotient (IQ) and language tests were the ones who had heard the greatest number of words at one and two.

"Even though your baby may be surrounded by conversation from birth on, it is important that you talk directly to her before she can talk back to you. You don't need to ask her a lot of questions or require her to respond. Your purpose is to build her understanding of language to help enhance her expression of language."

(Taken from the chapter "How Babies Learn to Talk", in How To Talk To Your Baby, Dorothy P. Dougherty, Avery, 1999.)

A good enough reason to keep those silly conversations going for a while longer!

Pictured above: The main topic of conversation might be the Wiggles, but research shows the more you talk to your toddlers, the better their language skills will be. Photo / Getty Images

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