Talking to babies boosts their brain power


Researchers at Stanford University have found that reading bedtime stories to babies and talking to them from birth boosts their brain power and sets them up for success at school, reports the Guardian.

Studies on babies and toddlers found that striking differences emerged in their vocabularies and language processing skills as early as 18 months old.

Children whose parents spoke to them least came out worst in language tests, and at 24 months old some lagged behind their contemporaries by up to six months. The handicap often stayed with the children and influenced how well they did at school over the next six years.

Developmental psychologist, Prof Anne Fernald, said chatting with infants helped them grasp the rules and rhythms of language at an early age and provided them with a foundation to build up an understanding of how the world worked.

Repetition helped children to remember words, while learning relationships between words helped them to construct a picture of the world that paid dividends when they reached school age.

In one of the tests, babies and toddlers sat on their parents' laps in front of a computer that displayed pictures of a baby and a dog side by side.

The researchers used slow-motion video cameras to record how quickly the children shifted their gaze from the wrong image to the right one when told to "look at the baby" or "look at the doggy". Half of the time they were already looking at the right image.

The test measured the children's ability to process language information. In the youngest children there was a pause before they looked at the right picture. But as their language skills developed, they shifted their gaze much faster, until they fixed on to the right image before the word baby or dog had been finished.

Prof Anne Fernald said children developed language best when their parents or carers involved them in conversations around things the children found interesting.

Prof Erika Hoff, a developmental psychologist at Florida Atlantic University, said parents should not restrict their conversations to simplistic baby talk. Rich and complex language, with adjectives and subordinate clauses, helped them to learn the complex structure of language.