A new study finds the dramatic fluctuation of high and low pitch that characterizes how mothers speak to babies and toddlers is qualifiably different from the relatively normal voice in which fathers speak to their kids. Study author Mark VanDam, professor of speech and hearing sciences at Washington State University, concluded that these two speech patterns work together to help kids move from nonsensical — but adorable! — babbling to coherent statements like, “Buy me that.”
VanDam revealed his findings at the 169th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America last week (you didn’t go?) after his team of researchers studied hundreds of recorded hours of parents interacting with their preschool children. The study supports what VanDam calls the bridge hypothesis, which claims a father speaking like an adult helps his child understand real world language and link similarities between dissimilar voices. Turns out optimizing your child’s language development is a sinch:
Keep Speaking Naturally
“Fathers should do what comes naturally when talking with their children,” VanDam told the Telegraph. “Some dads talk more and some talk less, all the while using different features, but the fact that dads use less pitch fluctuation [than mothers] with children does not adversely affect the children – quite the opposite.”
There’s a case to be made that her job is to teach the kid how to talk to the world, while your job is to teach them how to listen to it.
Read Everything Out Loud
It doesn’t have to be a children’s book (though these help), and you don’t necessarily need to read to your child. Babies learn from hearing your voice in the vicinity, whether it’s parsing the fine print of the new NSA laws or trying to get your pronouns straight while reading about Caitlyn Jenner.
Speak To Them As Often As Possible
Turns out that other noted kids language researcher Louis C.K. was wrong when he said of his 5-year-old daughter, “Nothing that she says matters. She’s never said anything actually important in her entire life.” You might not want to do a little call-and-response with the “Putcha Putcha Pants On” song while dressing your kid, but it will actually help with their language development.
Make Sure Mom Keeps Making Those Ridiculous Noises
The way mothers speak to their kids is believed to be a crucial bonding mechanism that also teaches inflection and cadence. In fact, there’s a case to be made that her job is to teach the kid how to talk to the world, while your job is to teach them how to listen to it.