Tag Archives: talking

Multilingualism in the Early Years

Despite years of research to the contrary, the idea often still persists that using more than one language to speak to very young children somehow delays or confuses their language acquisition…

But children’s brains are HARDWIRED to learn language — as much and as many language[s] as they possibly can — and it is actually hugely adaptive and beneficial for them to do so!

We’ve gathered some of our favourite external resources in one place to help spread this message! Let us know if you love one that we’ve missed!

Patricia Kuhl “The Linguistic Genius of Babies”(available with subtitles and transcripts here)


Mia Nacamulli “The Benefits of a Bilingual Brain”




“BILINGUALISM FINE-TUNES HEARING, ENHANCES ATTENTION: Dual language speakers better able to encode basic language sounds and patterns” (April 30, 2012 | Northwestern University | by Wendy Leopold)
“Why Bilinguals Are Smarter” (March 17, 2012 | The New York Times | by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee)
“The Benefits of Multilingualism” (May 1, 2010 | Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw | Michał B. Paradowski)

“The Pros and Cons of Raising a Multilingual Child” (2004 | Multilingual Children’s Association)
“Preserve rare languages to spread benefits of multilingualism, says expert” (February 15, 2016 | The Guardian | Press Association)

bubble talk watercolor abstract background. hand drawn illustration. language and speech

It is important to remember that multiple languages are best learned from people who can speak confidently and fluently using them! Our models for language-learning can be found easily in a culturally diverse city like Calgary! Make new friends that can speak languages you can’t! Encourage family and friends to speak in their first languages around your children! Join a fun bilingual program! Open your lives up to the sounds of multiple languages and you’ll also open up to some amazing benefits and experiences!

Parentese vs. Baby Talk

Adults have an innate and built-in way of speaking to babies. Most people use it automatically, but some people train themselves out of it and others train themselves into entirely different behaviours, either because they don’t want to condescend to their babies, or because they think it is necessary to; they want to simplify language and make it cuter, because they think that’s what babies need.

Turns out, babies DON’T need that. Infants have an amazing ability to learn languages, and everything they need to do it is hardwired right into them! Adults just need to trust their own instincts when it comes to talking to them.




So what IS “Parentese”?

Parentese is that slower, higher-pitched, overly-exaggerated way of speaking to babies that you see most adults using. We open our eyes wider, put on big smiles, and over-enunciate the words we’re saying. It is often sing-songy and stretches out vowel sounds, so that an ‘apple’ becomes an ‘aaaaaapple’ and objects aren’t just ‘big’, they’re ‘biiiiiiig’.

Baby Talk is something else completely. When people “baby talk”, they change regular words into words that are basically nonsense. Instead of telling you that you have a cute little baby, they might instead say: “What a toot wittle beebee!”. They aren’t changing real words to emphasize meaning or pronunciation… they’re using invented words with no meaning whatsoever!


When should I use Parentese, and when should I use Baby Talk?

You should NEVER use baby talk. Don’t use it around kids, don’t use it around infants, and DON’T use it around adults.

Baby Talk will actually delay speech and language development and teach children the wrong way to speak. For example, if your child grows up thinking that you “wuv” her, and that she is “stwong and smawt”, she will not recognize the words ‘love’, ‘strong’ and ‘smart’ when she hears other people say them — she will have no comprehension of what those words mean, and will continue to say them the wrong way so that other children, in turn, will misunderstand what she is trying to say. She might not even learn how to properly form some sounds… if she hears a lot of words with w’s in them where l’s should be, she might always pronounce words that way.

The good news is, you can feel confident in your use of Parentese. People use it all over the world and in every language we speak! Even very young babies turn their heads and are more attentive when people talk to them this way. They suck faster when they’re breastfeeding and are better able to mimic these sounds than those of regular-patterned language. They LOVE being spoken to this way.


Why talk to babies anyways?

Sometimes people feel foolish talking to infants who “can’t understand them”. Babies can’t answer questions, or ask any in turn. They can’t tell you with words how they’re feeling, or follow instructions to complete tasks. They can rarely do anything more than babble and giggle and cry…

But that babbling, giggling, and crying IS their way of communicating. When you talk to a baby and leave space for them to make their own noises, it teaches them how conversations work: first one person talks, then it’s the other person’s turn. When you respond to a baby’s gurgles by saying things like, “is that so?” it teaches them that their voices are heard and recognized. And when you speak confidently to a baby using the full, rich vocabulary of your native language, they learn to do the same! If you want your baby to learn how to talk, you have to model how! You have to talk to them.

All. The. Time.


Does Parentese dumb down language?

Using Parentese makes it easier for children to learn language. That is true whether you’re talking about a “biiiiiig dog” or a “gigaaaaaantic canine”. Whichever words you use around your child are the ones they will learn, so use as many as you possibly can!

And don’t worry about continuing speaking this way for too long. As soon as your child stops reacting to Parentese the same way they used to, you’ll naturally phase out using it and start using regularly-patterned speech.

Global News Calgary — Calgary’s Child Morning: Parentese vs Baby Talk