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Understanding the value of using parentese with pēpi, and giving it a go.

Learning goals

  • Understand what parentese is and how it helps babies' learning.
  • Learn how to speak parentese and enjoy using it to communicate with babies.

Explain what parentese is

Babies need to hear a lot of language spoken to and around them.

‘Parentese’ is a way of speaking to young babies that they’re most responsive to. It involves:

  • using a higher pitch
  • slow and stretched out vowels sounds
  • exaggerated changes in pitch and tone.

Babies easily become attuned to this way of speaking because their brains find this language easy to process.

When whānau use parentese and make eye contact when they talk, read and sing to pēpi, it triggers the building of language pathways in baby’s brain and builds a trusting relationship between them.

  • Researchers believe that babies can hear sounds at least 10 weeks before birth.
  • A newborn prefers their mother’s voice to any other.
  • Babies are interested in speech right from the start, and will turn to the sound of speaking over any other noises.

Babies learn language from both hearing and seeing. Watching familiar faces talking to them helps them learn very early what sounds go with which mouth movements. This is another reason why speaking kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face) is so important.

Practise parentese – game 1

This is a chance to practise using parentese. Before the workshop, list the statements below, each on their own card. Select a confident person to start (or it could be the facilitator). Arrange the group in a circle with the starter in the middle.

The fun part is that the ‘talker’ (the starter) is sharing quite serious statements, but they must use their best parentese voice, and the ‘listener’ is not allowed to smile – if they do, they swap places.

Have the person on the left of the listener keep time for 15 seconds. If no smiling has happened, the talker moves on to next person.

Try these statements for starters:

  • I suffer from a very severe gastric complaint.
  • I’m in love with the neighbour and I’m leaving you.
  • I crashed my car yesterday and it’s a write-off.
  • I got fired from my job this afternoon.
  • I’ve had a terrible bout of vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • I have a large infected boil on my behind.

Practise parentese – game 2

This is the opposite of the game above, because the talker uses a voice with no expression at all. The fun aspect is that the talker is sharing very encouraging statements and the listener isn’t allowed to smile – if they do, they swap places.

Have the person on the left of the listener keep track of the time. If no smiling has happened within 15 seconds, move on to next person.

Try these statements for starters:

  • You are the most beautiful baby in the world.
  • I love those lovely chubby rosy little cheeks.
  • Peekaboo, my little chunky monkey.
  • Are you hungry my gorgeous little boy?
  • Oh, what a lovely stinky nappy that is, let me change it for you.
  • Shall we wash that fat little puku now my darling?

Workshop materials

  • Pre-written statement cards
  • Blank cards for writing up new statements

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