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Study: Babies Begin Learning Language in the Womb


Did you talk to your baby in utero? New research suggests that hearing Mom or Dad’s voice isn’t just great for prenatal bonding, it actually helps baby start to distinguish between native language and a foreign tongue before they’re even born.

Plus: 3 Rules for Raising a Bilingual Child

Researchers led by Christine Moon, a professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA studied 40 just-born babies (between just 7 and 75 hours old) in both Washington State and Sweden. They hooked up pacifiers to a computer that measured how intensely babies sucked, which is widely considered a gauge of interest.

Newborns were played the vowel sounds from their own language and those of a foreign tongue – vowels are the loudest parts of a language, likely heard in utero. The babies sucked their pacifiers harder, conveying a higher level of interest or concentration, than when they were hearing their own language.

This suggests not only that infant can tell the difference between languages, but that they were ready for the novelty of something new. Time for baby French lessons!

"We have known for over 30 years that we begin learning prenatally about voices by listening to the sound of our mother talking," Moon said. "This is the first study that shows we learn about the particular speech sounds of our mother's language before we are born."

Did you talk to you baby in the womb? Leave a comment.