OPEN Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | 6 Feb 2020
N Ferjan Ramírez, SR Lytle and PK Kuhl
Parental language input is one of the best predictors of children’s language achievement. Parentese, a near-universal speaking style distinguished by higher pitch, slower tempo, and exaggerated intonation, has been documented in speech directed toward young children in many countries. Previous research shows that the use of parentese and parent-child turn-taking are both associated with advances in children’s language learning. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine whether a parent coaching intervention delivered when the infants are 6, 10, and 14 mo of age can enhance parental language input and whether this, in turn, changes the trajectory of child language development between 6 and 18 mo of age. Families of typically developing 6-mo-old infants (n = 71) were randomly assigned to intervention and control groups. Naturalistic first-person audio recordings of the infants' home language environment and vocalizations were recorded when the infants were 6, 10, 14, and 18 mo of age. After the 6-, 10-, and 14-mo recordings, intervention, but not control parents attended individual coaching appointments to receive linguistic feedback, listen to language input in their own recordings, and discuss age-appropriate activities that promote language growth. Intervention significantly enhanced parental use of parentese and parent-child turn-taking between 6 and 18 mo. Increases in both variables were significantly correlated with children’s language growth during the same period, and children’s language outcomes at 18 mo. Using parentese, a socially and linguistically enhanced speaking style, improves children’s social language turn-taking and language skills. Research-based interventions targeting social aspects of parent-child interactions can enhance language outcomes.
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