Why Babbling Is A Critical Language Milestone

I find infant language development fascinating! It’s remarkable to think about the complexities involved in learning a language, yet these little bundles do this at such a rapid rate and seemingly with such ease! In addition, although it may seem like your infant is a passive agent in the language learning process, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Their little brains are actively integrating information from the moment they are born and by the time they hit around 6-9 months old they are expected to have reached a critical language milestone known as babbling.

What is babbling?

Babbling occurs when your baby starts to put together strings of consonants and vowels that contain repetitions of sounds (e.g., babababab, gagaga, wawawawa). This important stage is sign of your baby’s growing control over their own speech sound system and articulators (e.g., mouth, tongue, throat, etc.).

During the babbling stage you should expect your baby to use a wide variety of consonant sounds. You will probably hear sounds like p, b, m, n, w, t, d, because these seem to be the easiest for infants to make at this age. Although you may hear your baby say “mama” or “dada” during this time, it is highly unlikely that they are saying their first words. It isn’t until around 9-12 months of age that children start associating the sounds they are making with true word meaning. Think of babbling as practice for the “big game”.

Is jargon the same as babbling?

By around 8-10 months of age babies can start doing what is known as non-reduplicated babbling, or jargon. This occurs when your baby continues to make even longer consonant – vowel strings that include a variety of speech sounds (e.g., badagitu, tibadomi, etc.). They may also start varying their pitch contours to sound similar to adult-like speech, so they might actually sound like they are “talking”. Some babies use a lot of jargon and some not as much. It just depends on your baby’s style. Even though infants still do not associate sounds with meaning yet at this stage, their growing vocal maturity has led them to develop a whole repertoire of speech sounds and combinations, and first words should be right around the corner!

Do all babies babble?

Studies have shown that babbling occurs across languages, so you should expect to hear your baby babble no matter what language you speak. It’s really important all parents look out for this critical milestone because a lack of babbling or very minimal babbling has been linked to hearing impairment and as a risk factor for late talking toddlers.

What do I do if my baby is not babbling a lot?

If your baby is not babbling by 8 months or you have concerns about the quality of their babbling, the first thing you should do is talk to your peadiatrician and contact your local audiologist. Audiologists are trained to assess an infant’s hearing to identify or rule out any hearing concerns. If your baby’s audiology assessment is within normal limits and you still have concerns, you can contact your local speech-language pathologist. These professionals will be able to assess your infant and determine the next steps for you to take.

How do I encourage my baby to babble?

When you hear your baby begin to babble get excited! They have reached a huge language milestone! You want to be able to help them practice in this stage because the more they practice the better it will be for their overall language development. A recent study showed that parents who consciously engage their baby in babbling by responding positively and talking back can accelerate their language development.

Here are a few tips to encourage more babbling by your baby.

  • Don’t interrupt – Babies need to hear themselves making these sounds. The auditory feedback they receive after they make these babbling noises is important for a healthy language development. If you hear your baby making babbling noises, be quiet, and let them get it all out. You can still be encouraging without saying anything by getting face-to-face with them, smiling and nodding while they get their babbling practice in. Once they have finished then you can join in the “conversation”.
  • Imitate their babbling – Studies have shown that when adults imitate babies’ vocalizations it increases the likelihood that babies will make the sounds again. So even though it may feel a little silly, bring out the baby sounds! Your baby will love the back and forth game and it will be super practice.
  • Keep the conversation going – When a baby is babbling or using jargon this is a great time for interaction and conversation with an adult. When talking to your baby during this time, try and use infant-directed speech; a simple, repetitive speech with exaggerated pitch patterns. Studies have shown that the more adults use this type of talk, the more babies are encouraged to babble. For more information on infant-directed speech click here.
  • Talk about what they are looking at – Keep an eye on what your baby is watching, not just what they are saying. A new study found that mothers who used words or comments based on what their babies were looking at when they babbled had children who used more words and gestures by 15 months old.

If your baby is in the babbling stage, congrats! If you’re still waiting to hit this milestone, don’t worry. It won’t be long before you too get to hear your little one’s cute little voice making all those new sounds.

References:

  1. Apel, K. & Masterson, J. (2012). Beyond Baby Talk. From Spelling to Speaking: A Guide To Language and Literacy Development for Parents and Caregivers. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
  1. Eilers, R. & Kimbrough Oller, D.. (1994). Infant vocalizations and the early diagnosis of severe hearing impairment. The Journal of Pediatrics, 124(2), 199-203.
  1. Gros-Louis, J., West, M., & King, A.. (2014). Maternal responsiveness and the development of directed vocalizing in social interactions. Infancy, 1-24.
  1. Kim, Y. & Byington, T. (2015). Infant Language Development. Retrieved online March 2, 2016: https://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/cy/2015/fs1506.pdf
  1. Kimbrough Oller, D., Eilers, R., Neal, A. & Schwartz, H.. (1999). Precursors to speech in infancy: The prediction of speech and language disorders. Journal of Communication Disorders, 32, 223-245.
  1. Von Hapsburg, D. & Davis, B.. (2006). Auditory sensitivity and the prelinguistic vocalizations of early-amplified infants. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 49, 809-822.

 

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