I often play music with Nora (7M) sitting on my lap, and she loves to play with my talk box tube:


This is just something we do for fun, but it makes me wonder: could this sort of play help babies learn to talk sooner?

A talk box is a speaker with a tube that pipes its sound into your mouth. You use your mouth to filter the incoming audio, emphasizing some frequencies relative to others, and then you and others hear the modified sound. In music this can be used to make an instrument appear to talk/sing, or it can be used a bit like a wah-wah, to dynamically adjust the tone.

Now, this is very speculative and probably wrong, but here's my idea for how it might help a baby practice talking. What if most of the time in learning how to talk is learning how to shape the sounds with your mouth? Babies babble a lot, limited by some combination of vocal cord stamina and interest, but having some talk box time could let them get in additional practice?

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Babies babbling is responding to and mimicking speech they hear early on. It is possible to predict the language from baby babbling and crying early on. See e.g.

This indicates to me that interaction with the baby is important for language acquisition equally early on. I wouldn't try to distract from this with instruments and tools. I do think that there is probably enough talk in your family for that to be no risk here, but I think the general tendency applies.

Here just a general reference about early language acquisition:

I don't think time playing with the talk box funges against vocal interaction with the baby. More, it's an alternative to playing with toys that don't buzz in your mouth?

From my discussions with two speech therapists a few years ago, the most significant difference between early- and late-talkers according to current research is engagement (citation needed). Baby learn by copying behavior, including speech - the more they are spoken (and listened) to, the easier it is. This is different to e.g. the way babies discover a sense of "self" vs. "outside" world, which can be influenced by binding in other senses to their movement (there are some hilarious videos of babys that have some helium balloons on their hands and feet and discover, that they can move them - the more common alternative is hanging toys that make a sound when hit over the babies head).

Babies learn very quickly about their ability to produce sound, even before they get a feeling of "physical self boundary", so I'd guess the talk box wouldn't help much there. Talking and listening to the baby is the best bet to get them interested in speaking in general, and then giving extra positive feedback for identifiers like mom or dad or some other word for a physical thing.

My guess is, that one of those high-pitched speak-back toys would give better results on speech development than a talk box - while obviously not trying to underestimate the fun they (and their family) can have with the talk box ;)