Washington | Parents, take note! Next time you read to your baby, pay attention to their babbling and respond, as interaction is the key to language development during reading, according to a new study. The study from the University of Iowa in US looked at how mothers responded to their 12-month-olds during book reading, puppet play, and toy play. Researchers found that the babies made more speech-like sounds during reading than when playing with puppets or toys. They also discovered mothers were more responsive to these types of sounds while reading to their child than during the other activities.
The findings might explain why book reading has been linked to language development in young children. A lot of research shows that book reading even to infants as young as six months of age is important to language outcomes, but I’m trying to explain why by looking at the specifics, which could be responding to speech-like sounds, said Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at the UI.
If we know what specific interactions are occurring between caregiver and child and we can link that to language outcomes, then it wouldn’t just be telling parents, ‘Read a lot of books to your kids,’ Gros-Louis said. That would definitely be important to tell them, but you could also identify specific behaviours to do during book reading, said Gros-Louis.
The study also found that no matter the context, mothers’ responses to speech-like sounds were often imitations or an expansion of the sound. For example, if the baby said, Ba, the mother would respond with Ba-ba or Ball, even if it had nothing to do with the story being read. Mothers frequently provided labels during reading, too. Researchers observed the interactions of 34 mothers and their 12-month-olds during three 10-minute periods of different activities: puppet play, toy play, and book reading.
They then coded each child’s vocalisations and their mother’s responses. Vocalisations included any sound the baby made except distress cries and fusses, hiccups, coughs, and grunts. The current findings can contribute to understanding how reading to preverbal infants is associated with language outcomes, which is not well understood in contrast to reading interactions with older toddlers, researchers said.