According to a new study from The University of Iowa and Indiana University, how parents react to their infants’ babbling impacts their language development. The research was recently published in the journal Infancy. The research team, includes Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Iowa.

A study by Gros-Louis in 2003 compared infants whose parents didn’t respond positively to their babbling with babies whose parents responded by smiling and/or touching, for example. When infants looked at their mothers and babbled, and the parents responded positively, babies learned more sophisticated, syllable-like sounds more quickly.

This latest study tested how mothers’ responsiveness to their infants’ babbling affected their language development over a longer period. For six months, the researchers monitored interactions between twelve mothers and their 8-month-old babies for 30 minutes twice a month. During each session, the team looked at how mothers responded when their child made positive vocal sounds, such as cooing and babbling, particularly when such sounds were directed at the mother.

Gros-Louis and colleagues found that when mothers made an effort to respond to what they believed their infant was trying to say, their baby showed greater advancement in language development. In detail, they made more advanced consonant-vowel sounds, meaning their babbling started to sound more like words.

In addition, these infants began to direct more of their babbling toward their mothers as time elapsed. “The infants were using vocalizations in a communicative way, in a sense, because they learned they are communicative,” explains Gros-Louis.

I have observed, both with my own babies and others, both mothers and fathers, that if the parents respond as if they understand exactly what baby is saying, infants light up and respond by babbling more. A conversation ensues which delights both parents and infants, and after a while, parents feel that they do understand their infants’ language. Observing this, you feel enchanted, and you get to observe bonding in a special way.