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Talking with pēpi has lots of long-term benefits for their learning and relationships.

Benefits of talking to pēpi

Talking to pēpi has huge long-term benefits for them, because:

  • talking strengthens the relationship between them and their whānau
  • the more words pēpi hears in their early years, the more words they’ll be able to use later on
  • being spoken to, listened to, read to, and sung has a positive impact on mokopuna and their:
    • understanding of the languages their whānau speaks
    • ability to express themselves
    • ability to build relationships with others
    • ability to play and work with others
    • success at school and in life.

Ways that whānau can talk to their pēpi

  1. Choose a time when pēpi is fed, comfortable and in a quiet, alert state.
  2. Talk face-to-face – when babies can watch their parent’s mouth while they hear the sounds their parent is making, they are making connections in their brain for their languages of their whānau.
  3. Make sure pēpi can see the faces speaking to them. Hold them so their face is about 30cm away so pēpi can see clearly (it's interesting that this is about the same distance between faces during breastfeeding).
  4. Use a style of talking called ‘parentese’ – this means talking more slowly, exaggerating mouth movements and using a higher pitch. Babies can hear this sort of talking more easily (so can pets).
  5. After saying something to pēpi, give them a few moments to respond before talking again – their response could be an interested look, a mouth movement or a sound. Pēpi is learning about taking turns when having a conversation, which ultimately helps with other kinds of turn-taking, such as sharing toys.
  6. Whānau can talk about anything with their pēpi, such as the day they're having, what pēpi is doing and what they're doing. The important thing is that pēpi sees their mouths and hears the sounds in the languages of their whānau.
  7. In the first year, a baby who’s had plenty of experiences of face-to-face talking will have made connections in their brain for the vowels and consonants used in their languages. Connections in the brain for the sounds they hear over and over again are being strengthened, while the connections for sounds they don’t hear become more fragile and may be ‘pruned’.
  8. Pēpi can learn other languages from the very beginning as well. It may help them if each person consistently uses one language when talking face-to-face with baby.
  9. Singing face-to-face is an effective and enjoyable way to build baby’s language.
  10. Saying rhymes and reading books is another way of building language capability.
  11. Mokopuna need many repetitions of seeing mouths talking and hearing the sounds that match to make and strengthen brain connections for language.

Other resources

Talking Matters(external link)

The linguistic genius of babies (by Professor Patricia Kuhl) | TED talk(external link)