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Health and Sanity

Valentina Nicolae
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piqer: Valentina Nicolae
Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Baby Talk: Decoding The Secret Language Of Babies

This episode of Hidden Brain, which is part of a wider project called How to Raise a Human, focuses on baby talk, that is, on deciphering babbling and its larger implications. The gist of the matter is that babbling equals learning. When they engage in that activity, babies “are putting themselves in this optimal state of being ready to learn. Babbles create an opportunity for a social feedback loop — also known as a conversation.”

Researcher Laura Cirelli made a study where she had babies facing assistants, turned on some music and then made some of the assistants sway in sync with babies, and others sway out of sync. What she discovered is “that 14-month-olds who felt they were bouncing in sync with a dance partner were more likely to help that partner pick up an object that was out of reach.”

Although babbling was until recently considered just a baby’s way of practicing their motor skills, studies show that it’s much more than that: it’s a baby’s way of learning and of taking part in the conversation. As a comparison, psychology professor Rachel Albert thinks back on her high school French classes, when the teacher would only speak French from the minute she stepped in the classroom, the students would stare in panic, not understanding a word; then the teacher would slow down her speech and point at different objects while naming them in French slowly and clearly—this being the point where the students figured out ‘oh, ok, so this is the word for desk’. “This must be somewhat similar to what a baby experiences”, Albert says, “when there’s all this conversation going around, bla-bla, bla-bla, they start to become active communication partners and try to engage in that world. But how do they make sense of it?"

The point both researchers make is that the child-parent communication is not a one-way thing, where the parent teaches the clumsy infant stuff. They're both learning things about each other and the world around them, they're just using different tools. 

Baby Talk: Decoding The Secret Language Of Babies
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