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Babies in the Womb Learn Language

Posted: Jan 9, 2013 9:26 PM
Updated: Jan 10, 2013 10:06 PM

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A new study found that babies begin learning language while they are still in the womb. Scientists knew that babies who are only hours old can tell the difference between their native language and a foreign language. This study, out of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington will be published in Acta Paediatrica.

Researchers found that babies hear their mothers talk throughout the last 10 weeks of pregnancy and at birth they respond to what they've heard. They reported that the vowel sounds are what the fetus hears most prominently. "This is the first study that shows fetuses learn prenatally about the particular speech sounds of a mother's language," said Christine Moon, lead author and a professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. "This study moves the measurable result of experience with speech sounds from six months of age to before birth."

They used pacifiers that were wired into a computer that measured how long the babies sucked after hearing vowel sounds in their native language and in a foreign language. According to the study, "Longer or shorter sucking for unfamiliar or familiar sounds is evidence for learning, because it indicates that infants can differentiate between the sounds heard in utero." They believe this indicates that infants are the best learners and "soak up" information. "We want to know what magic they put to work in early childhood that adults cannot," Kuhl said. "We can't waste that early curiosity."

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