Babbling Babies

On a visit to the pediatrician’s office, parents of newborns can expect to be asked about whether or not their kids are making noise. Recent research, highlighted in the NY Times, suggests that we should be looking for a specific kind of utterance from babies as young as 7 months old: their sounds should have developed into “canonical babble” that includes consonant sounds as well as vowels:

Babies who go on vocalizing without many consonants, making only aaa and ooo sounds, are not practicing the sounds that will lead to word formation, not getting the mouth muscle practice necessary for understandable language to emerge.

“A baby hears all these things and is able to differentiate them before the baby can produce them,” said Carol Stoel-Gammon, an emeritus professor of speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington. “To make an m, you have to close your mouth and the air has to come out of your nose. It’s not in your brain somewhere – you have to learn it.”

The consonants in babble mean the baby is practicing, shaping different sounds by learning to maneuver the mouth and tongue, and listening to the results.” They get there by 12 months,” Professor Stoel-Gammon continued, “and to me the reason they get there is because they have become aware of the oral motor movements that differentiate between an b and an m.”

What’s the best way for babies to learn? Sorry parents, but it’s on us: “Babies have to hear real language from real people to learn these skills. Television doesn’t do it, and neither do educational videos: recent research suggests that this learning is in part shaped by the quality and context of adult response.”

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