A father’s important role in his child’s language development


Studycat Editorial Team


Popular belief states that babies learn languages from mothers only. However, that has since been proved untrue.

We’re familiar with the term “mother tongue”, which generally means the language we talk with first. The phrase itself implies that mums are mostly responsible for how to teach baby to talk. However, a recent study challenges this idea.

It’s results have found that dads play an equally important role in a child’s language development, particularly related to their vocabulary.

The “father tongue”

Popular belief states that babies learn languages from mothers only. However, that has since been proved untrue.

In 1997, scientists argued that the children obtained language through their dad’s language, and not their mums. The aptly named “Father Tongue Hypothesis” was first brought up in this study, which was coordinated by Estella Poloni and researchers at Geneva University.

Poloni and her team examined if there were was anything linking language variation and genes inherited by children from both mums and dads.

In the end, Poloni concluded that variations in language were associated with genes inheritable from dads only.

In contrast, specific DNA which children can only inherit from mums seemed to have no effect on language variation.

Current research suggests dad’s important role in baby’s speech development

Now, let’s go back to the latest study on language development in babies. The study was led by Menghan Zhang at the Laboratory of Contemporary Anthropology at the University of Fudan. It aimed to identify more information on which parent is responsible for relaying language to babies.

Zhang’s team coordinated their genetic-linguistic study on 34 present-day Indo-European populations.

The scientists focused on patterns visible in linking two themes: vocabulary and genes inheritable by dads only, and sounds from mothers and genes inheritable by mums only.

The study was the first to separate language into two different parts: vocabulary and sound.

The results are very interesting when it comes to dad’s role in a baby’s language development.

Babies “inherit” vocabulary from their dads, and due to a specific set of dad’s genes being passed down.

Similarly, babies learn to pronounce words and sounds from mum because she passes down another set of genes.

These findings strongly challenge our previous ideas about how infants obtain language. Zhang’s team may have successfully eliminated the “Father Tongue Hypothesis” and “Mother Tongue Hypothesis” we are all familiar with by combining them instead!

How to teach baby to talk…for Dads!

Parents, as can be seen from this study, both mum and dad have a role to play in developing their child’s language… and fascinatingly, it’s inherited!

And while much focus is on mum’s role in baby’s speech development, dads, now you too see that your role is equally important.

Here are some tips specially for dads to help you speed up your baby’s language development, in addition to your “genetic gift” of vocabulary.

Interact with your child as often as possible

According to some studies, babies that are exposed to television, learn six words less than their non-tv-viewing counterparts

So dads, minimize (or eliminate) screen-time and talk to your baby instead. You can also read stories or rhymes. Try to make communicating something really fun for your baby.

Help your baby learn the names of things

Object labeling is an important way for dads to help their child’s language development. Dads can point to an object while saying, “This is ______.”

But this should be done normally with dads just following the lead of their babies. Make sure that your timing is correct so your baby can associate the right label to an object.

While doing object labelling, you can use exaggerated motions to attract your baby’s attention. This practice makes the experience not just auditory but visual as well.

Other tips

  • During playtime with your baby, position yourself at his level to ensure good eye contact. This may mean you have to lie on your tummy if your little one is sitting on the floor.
  • When going about with chores in the house or when you are out and about with your baby, talk about the things you see, hear, touch or smell. Doing so helps him establish an association with his five senses as well as pique his curiosity.
  • If your baby says something incorrectly, mention the right word or words immediately after.
  • Read widely and often. Exposure to books have been proven to heighten interest in reading and the language, as well as build a healthy habit from young.
  • Children learn best when their interest level is in place, so get creative and have fun!

This story originally appeared on theAsianparent and is republished here with permission.