Differences In Baby Talk Versus 'Parentese'

When it comes to helping infants learn to talk, it’s not just how much parents say, but how they say it.


A recent study from the University of Washington set out to distinguish the differences between “baby talk” and “parentese”, and learned that it can ultimately help with a child’s development and vocabulary.

What is the difference between baby talk and parentese? Baby talk is defined as the consciously imperfect or altered speech used by adults in speaking to small children (think “cutsie-wootsie”). Parentese is different than simply making up words and sounds to interact with babies; it uses complete sentences and thoughts, spoken in long vowel sounds and exaggerated tones. It sounds happy, joyful, and generally makes it so an infant feels fully engaged with.


The UW study divided parents between two groups. Both groups’ interactions with their children were recorded, while one group received individual coaching sessions, where they learned “language interaction” skills. Babies in the coached group of parents were found to have significantly improved early language skills around the same time baby is starting solids.

“Most parents know that the amount of language their child hears is important. What we shared with them through coaching is that how they talk to their baby may matter even more,” said Naja Ferjan Ramírez, a research scientist at I-LABS and lead author of the study. “Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and we are happy to show they can have an immediate positive effect on the growth of their child’s language. Early language skills are important predictors of a child’s learning to read and of their success in school, and parents can directly affect their child’s outcomes in this way.”

Little Foodie Club