early language learning

Research: Language Learning starts 10 Weeks before Birth

early language learning

There have been many debates as to whether language learning for baby starts before or after birth. This research may provide additional evidence to the fact that language learning starts even before birth.

Researchers say that newborns react differently to native and foreign vowel sounds which suggest that language learning begins in the womb, but how much learning of speech sounds is unknown.

Infants tested seven to seventy-five hours after birth treated spoken variants of a vowel sound in their home as similar; this indicated that newborns regard these sounds as a member of a common category as stated by Christine Moon, a psychologist, at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.

Fetuses can hear outside sounds by about 10 weeks before birth. Previously, evidence suggested that prenatal learning was restricted to the melody, rhythm and loudness of voices

Researchers proposed that in the last couple of months of gestation, babies monitor at least some vowels, usually the most expressive and loudest speech sounds made by their mothers.

The vowel tracking before birth shows that fetuses hear amazingly well despite being immersed in amniotic fluid inside cramped quarters as one psychologist suggested. The new study suggests that the fetal brain close to birth can perceive and learn the important aspects of speech.

For the research study, 80 healthy newborns, half in the U.S hospitals and half in Swedish hospitals were studied. In a quiet room, each infant lay in a crib with soft headphones place next to his or her ears. The infants, sucking on a pacifier that’s connected to a computer, triggered the presentation of vowel sounds for five minutes.

Utterances made by the infants consisted of 17 variants of an English hard e, as in the word fee, and 17 variants of a Swedish vowel which sounds roughly like yeh. The vowels uttered included one that had been rated as the best example of that sound by native speakers.

The researched noticed that on average newborns sucked their pacifiers more times upon hearing foreign vowels than native vowels. The finding was held regardless of time since birth. All versions of native sound elicited generally the same rate of pacifier sucking which means that newborns already perceived these speech sounds as part of a single category.

It looks like language learning may start at a much earlier time than most people think after all. So why not profit from this early start and raise your baby bilingual? Research shows that this will lead to cognitive benefits later on in life.

via ScienceNews | Image

  • Dolly Loaiza -Bilingual Planet

    So very interesting. Thank you !

    • Anne

      Thanks Dolly.

  • Fascinating, it would be good to add a reference to the study that inspired the article, or at least writing the name of the researchers. Thanks