Leave It to the Babes – How Babies Learn Language

Leave It to the Babes – How Babies Learn Language

Remember when I said it was important to get your child to start learning a new language early?

Well here is where I make my case that there is no such thing as too young to start learning a new language.

With studies backing this information for a long time, I recently came across a study that blew my mind.

Apparently babies start learning new languages while they’re still inside their mother’s womb!

pregnant-womanA psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Janet Werker[1], dedicates her studies to understanding how babies recognize language, and how that perception can shape their learning. In her many studies, she found out that even while the baby is in the womb, they are exposed to the sounds of language being spoken near the mother.

Dr. Werker said that babies even show signs that they prefer languages with similar rhythms to the languages they hear while in the womb.

To add to that, she found in a study that babies born to bilingual mothers prefer the two languages the mother speaks, and they can differentiate one language from the other. How amazing is that?

There have also been studies that claim babies can learn vowels while they’re in the womb.

“The mother has first dibs on influencing the child’s brain. The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them,” said Patricia Kuhl[2], co-author of the study and co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.

Dr. Kuhl conducted her experiment with 40 newborn babies with the assumption that they tend to suck a pacifier longer when hearing unfamiliar voices rather than familiar ones.

The result? The babies reacted with more interest when posed with sounds different than the ones they heard while in the womb.

“This is a stunning finding. We thought infants were ‘born learning’, but now we know they learn even earlier. They are not phonetically naïve at birth,” Kuhl said.

So now we know that our babies are learning language from us even before we thought they could. Why not give them a boost and try giving them a head start from the other children?

Perhaps start reading for them even before they are born. After all, now we know they’re listening[3].

Even after they are born, the benefits children get from their parents reading to them are widely known.

For example, parents who read to their children early on set the stage for when their children reach school age. According to an article on NYmetroparents[4], reading aloud to your baby can aid language development as well as promote emergent literacy. The children also get used to listening and focusing, which are two skills that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

Along with those perks, reading aloud can improve a child’s vocabulary, which goes for adults as well. There is no better way to build an expansive vocabulary than good old-fashioned reading/listening.

Listening to a parent’s reading also stimulates the child’s development of cognitive thinking skills, and it can help enhance the child’s memory.

What Can Monolingual Parents Do?

Now, these tips are good and well for learning English and for parents who speak the target language for their bilingual child. However, monolingual parents like me can’t read for our children in their target language. So what can we do?

We can try audiobooks or video representation of stories in the target language.

Music in the target language can also be a great option, as well as using toys that speak the target language.

These are all easy and affordable options for many monolingual parents.

Knowing first-hand how hard this process can be for monolingual parents, I’m also currently working on translating popular children’s books from English into seven different languages.

Like I love to say, this blog is always here to help!

Do you have any comments or personal experiences related to the studies we talked about? Remember to leave your comment below!

And, as always, don’t forget to check out our Facebook page for more news on raising bilingual children.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/health/views/11klass.html?_r=2

[2] http://www.medicaldaily.com/babies-learn-language-basics-while-still-womb-244106

[3] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2013/08/babies-learn-recognize-words-womb

[4] http://www.nymetroparents.com/article/4-proven-benefits-of-reading-to-your-baby

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *