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Have you seen the viral video of the twin babies babbling? These twin babies "talk" to each other animatedly, but more is going on than meets the eye. David Chenoweth, a speech language pathologist affiliated with Sharp Rees-Stealy, answers questions about the twins in this video and what it means when babies babble.
What are these twin babies saying to each other?
While they appear to be having quite an animated conversation, there may not be much actual content to their vocalizations. The bulk of their conversation consisted of reduplicated babbling (“da-da-da-da-da”). The reason they appear to be “talking” to one another is that they are using appropriate intonation patterns in their babbling.
Throughout their “conversation” we hear rising and falling pitch and the intonation patterns for both statements (indicated by falling intonation at the end) and questions (indicated by rising intonation at the end). Adults will often attribute meaning to these types of utterances because it sounds so much like an actual sentence and sometimes the sounds being used will correspond to something appropriate to the context. But this is a good thing, because it leads adults to respond to the child’s utterance and model appropriate language for the child to attempt to imitate, thus spurring their language development further.
What does it mean when babies babble?
At early ages when babbling first appears (6 to 8 months), babbling doesn’t truly “mean” anything. A baby may repeat the syllables “ma-ma-ma-ma” but may not yet realize that these sounds can be used to represent his mother. Rather, he is simply experimenting with the mouth and the process of sound formation. But that doesn’t mean that babbling is not important!
As children experiment with sounds and learn how to control their articulators, they are setting the stage for the development of their first words and for future language skills. Also, babbling helps babies experience the social aspects of communication. Parents will often engage in turn-taking with their babies where the baby will babble and then the adult will imitate the production or vary the sound and see if the child will imitate the new sound. In this way, babies learn about crucial social language skills like turn-taking, eye contact and imitation.
What is reduplicated babbling?
Reduplicated babbling means that the baby is repeating the same syllable several times. So “ma-ma-ma” and “pa-pa-pa” are reduplicated whereas “go-bi-da-too-la” has a varied consonant and vowel structure so it is an example of variegated babbling. Children typically begin babbling by producing reduplicated syllables and then gradually add the ability to produce variegated syllables as they become more skilled at producing sounds.
What are characteristics of reduplicated babbling?
In reduplicated babbling, the child will produce the same exact consonant and vowel structure again and again — “bu-bu-bu-bu-bu” or “na-na-na-na.” This type of babbling is much easier to produce than a varied string of consonants and vowels so we tend to see it at an earlier age.
Are these twins having a conversation?
In many ways they are. In the video you will be able to see each child take a conversational turn (some turns are longer than others) while the other child responds to the communicative attempts of the speaker. Both babies shift between these roles as the video continues so each gets a chance to be the speaker and the listener. These are the core elements of a conversation.
In addition, both babies are laughing and looking at one another and are imitating some gestures and movements in addition to their speech. They are clearly enjoying “talking” to one another. So although there may not be a true exchange of information, there is plenty of social reinforcement going on.
Is their babbling more lively because they are twins?
Not necessarily. Twins do have the benefit of having a consistently available peer with whom they can practice their speech and language skills. This means more reinforcement of their efforts and more time spent learning to perfect their skills.
However, there is nothing specific to twins that increases babbling or makes it more animated. Most children enjoy babbling, particularly when they have an audience! Any child who is given extra opportunity and reinforcement for babbling is going to be more animated in his or her attempts.
One baby seems to be leading the conversation while the other looks like he’s reacting to his brother by laughing. What’s going on here?
The conversation that was captured in this video certainly shows one baby doing most of the “talking.” The other baby does take a few conversational turns, but they do not tend to be as long as his brother’s. This is not all that unusual, particularly since the second baby seems to be enjoying his role as a listener and is providing excellent feedback to the speaker in the form of laughter and responses to encourage further communicative efforts.
It is possible that there may be some personality differences between the two brothers that resulted in the one baby taking more of a leading role in the conversation while the other brother is more content to listen and respond. Or perhaps their language skills are developing at different rates and the baby who is leading the conversation has skills that are slightly more advanced, allowing him to take a more dominant role in this particular conversational attempt.
However, it should also be pointed out that adult conversations often follow the same pattern. Think about your last conversation with a friend. If they started to tell you a story about something that happened to them recently, they probably took longer and more frequent conversational turns while you encouraged them to continue with brief interjections and appropriate emotional responses. Just like the twins in the video. In fact, they are probably modeling their own conversational attempt after what they have observed from adults.
What should parents do to help encourage constructive babbling behavior?
Parents can encourage the behavior by modeling it themselves and by having play “conversations” with their children. When your baby is awake and alert that is the perfect time to start a babbling conversation!
If the baby is already producing some babbling, repeat what she says and see if she will do it again. After a few exchanges, parents can try altering the syllables and see if the baby will switch to the new sounds. Using a few real words to respond to the apparent content of the child’s utterance is also fine (e.g., “Wow! A blue car!”).
Most of all, have fun! Babies respond as much to intonation and facial expression as they do to the words. Using a clear, slow, slightly louder voice with some extra intonation and a smile makes it more likely that a child will attend to the model and seek to imitate it.
At what age does babbling start?
Babbling can typically begin anywhere between 5 and 7 months of age. There can be physical, medical or environmental factors that would delay the onset of babbling, but most children will begin reduplicated babbling right around 6 months of age.
Should parents be concerned if their baby is not babbling?
Every child develops differently and not every child will start to babble at the same age. However, if a baby has not started producing sounds by about 10 months of age then it would be a good idea to discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician, particularly if there is a family history of speech, language or hearing problems or if the child was producing sounds and then stops doing so.
In order to develop speech and language skills, it is very important to make sure that a baby is hearing correctly. You may be sent to see an audiologist who can assess the baby’s ability to hear at various loudness levels and frequencies.
At 14 to 16 months if a child is not communicating using real words a speech-language pathologist can evaluate the child’s language skills and if needed, provide speech therapy to help them learn to communicate more appropriately.
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