The More a Baby Babbles, the Better Reader They’ll Be
The nonsense your baby babbles might sound meaningless, but it tells a bigger tale than you think. The more a baby babbles, the greater their chances of being a better reader, finds a new study from Florida State University in the US. Conversely, a lack of babble could also indicate a future reading difficulty.
During the first year of a baby’s life, the brain is programmed to learn language, absorbing and processing new words at an exponential rate. When babies are born, they use crying as their first means of communication, and by the time they’re around 6 months, they progress to babbling and distinguishing words and sound patterns. The new findings suggest that speech and language difficulties may be identifiable as early as this age, as opposed to ages 3 to 5, when they’re currently spotted.
The study team observed nine infants from English-speaking US families, aged between 9 to 30 months. When the infants interacted with their primary caregiver, their babbling was recorded. Researchers then used these recordings to track the childrens’ consonant-vowel (CV) ratio, which reveals the level of speech complexity. The team then re-evaluated these children when they were 6 years old and tested their ability to identify letters – a typical method of predicting later reading impairment.
The findings showed that children who had exhibited more complex babbling in infancy were better at identifying specific letters in their reading tests at age 6. While the sample size of the study was extremely small, and all nine children developed typically, without any learning disability, the researchers say they’re confident that early infant babbling is linked to literacy skills.
“This paper provides exciting data to support an early and robust connection between speech production and later literacy skills. There is clinical utility in this work – we are moving closer to establishing behavioral measures that may help us identify reading disabilities sooner,” says Kelly Farquharson, one of the study authors from Florida State University.
There it is — you may long for the day your child can speak and tell you what they need, but babbling is the earliest foundation for later skills. (Also important? How you respond to the babbling.)