New Research: While in womb, babies begin learning language from their mothers

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Each time a newborn sucks on the pacifier, a computer delivers sound into the headphones. The sounds are computer-generated versions of vowels. Infants in both countries were tested with English and Swedish vowels. This newborn in Sweden is listening to an English vowel; after long pause in sucking, the vowel is changed. The number of sucking responses to each vowel is an indicator of the degree of interest or preference an infant has for a particular sound.

While in womb, babies begin learning language from their mothers

Babies only hours old are able to differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, scientists have discovered. The study indicates that babies begin absorbing language while still in the womb, earlier than previously thought.

Sensory and brain mechanisms for hearing are developed at 30 weeks of gestational age, and the new study shows that unborn babies are listening to their mothers talk during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy and at birth can demonstrate what they’ve heard.

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

Previously, researchers had shown that newborns are born ready to learn and begin to discriminate between language sounds within the first months of life, but there was no evidence that language learning had occurred in utero.

“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.”

Read the Full Press Release by Molly McElroy. University of Washington.

Read the Publication’s Abstract.

Media Coverage

Newborns know their native tongue, study findsCBS News. January 2, 2013.

Babies learn language before they are born. By Paul Hamaker. The Examiner. January 2, 2013.

Babies listen to their mother’s voice in the womb, research January 4, 2013.

Babies Seem to Pick Up Language in Utero, By Nicolas Bakalar, The New York Times, January 7, 2013.

Babies learn language before birth, say Tacoma and Seattle researchers. By Gabriel Spitzer. NPR. January 2, 2013.

Babies begin learning language from their mothers while they’re still in the (China)/ January 2, 2013.

Language Learning Begins in Utero, Study Finds; Newborn Memories of Oohs and Ahs Heard in the WombScienceDaily. January 2, 2013.

Newborns Know Their Native Tongue, Study FindsLiveScience. January 2, 2013.

Newborns Recognize Their Native Language Just Hours After Birth (STUDY)Huffington Post. January 2, 2013.

Babies’ language lessons may start inside the News. January 2, 2013.

Language Learning Begins in Womb. By Emily Sohn. Discovery News. January 3, 2013.

Babies begin learning language while in womb. By ANI. The Times of India. January 3, 2013.

Babies learn language in the wombHealth 24. January, 2013.

The study was also covered by:

Deccan Herald

Direct to Mum UK

Hindustan Times

The Indian Express

News Track India

Outcome Magazine

Personal Liberty Digest

Sun News Network Canada

ZeeNews India