For some people, using sing-song talk with new babies and belting out nursery rhymes like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” might feel silly. Talk to little ones like adults, and they’ll start using more words as soon as they can speak, right? Well, new findings from researchers at the University of Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin reveal that during their first year of life, infants learn language more effectively from rhythmic sounds than phonetic sounds (a.k.a. the alphabet). Put simply, it’s time for new parents to warm up those vocal chords.
As noted in Science Daily, the study shows that an emphasis on different syllables and high and low tunes is more effective for babies developing language skills because “rhythmic speak helps babies learn language by emphasizing the boundaries of individual words.”
Cambridge neuroscientist and project lead Usha Goswami explains, “Our research shows that the individual sounds of speech are not processed reliably until around seven months, even though most infants can recognize familiar words like ‘bottle’ by this point. From then, individual speech sounds are still added in very slowly—too slowly to form the basis of language.”
“Infants can use rhythmic information like a scaffold or skeleton to add phonetic information on to. For example, they might learn that the rhythm pattern of English words is typically strong-weak, as in ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy,’ with the stress on the first syllable. They can use this rhythm pattern to guess where one word ends and another begins when listening to natural speech,” she adds.
So, parents, forget approaching your tiny human as an equal in conversation (at least for now), and feel free to sing nursery rhymes to your heart’s content—no matter how bad you think you sound. Your little one will thank you, maybe even sooner than you think.