Dear Savvy Auntie,

My baby niece is so cute. She babbles all the time. I keep talking back to her, but my sister, her other aunt, thinks I'm being silly. "She can't understand what you're saying to her. You just sound like a baby."

Who's right?

Babbling Auntie

Dear Babbling Auntie,

Keep talking! Not only do we know that babies understand language much earlier than the time they first use words, by speaking to your niece, you are helping her prepare to say her first words.

Babies’ brains are truly amazing and we have the science to prove it. We have known for a while that babies recognize familiar voices and can even recognize the sound of their own name as early as four and a half months (The Discovery of Spoken Language, Peter Jusczyk, 1997). Before a baby even utters his or her first true word, it is estimated they may already understand 100 words and respond to simple instructions (“Come to Auntie”) and questions (“More juice?”).

Recently, an amazing study discovered that babies cry with an accent (Current Biology, 2009). This means that they are hearing the melody of the language spoken to them and match that rhythm in their cries. Besides recognizing the rhythm of language, babies tune into the most frequently repeated sounds they hear. By talking to your niece, you are helping her recognize the specific sounds and rhythm of English, which in turn is giving her the foundation to say her first word.

Best Wishes,
Rhonda Davis

Rhonda Davis is a speech and language pathologist with a private practice in New York City. ,

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