Having one of the younger babies on staff, it’s no surprise that I’m often drawn to baby news. While the vast majority of it is usually rather snoozeworthy, I was quite intrigued by recent research indicating that even in utero, babies understand their native language in contrast to foreign languages. Now, maybe this isn’t too surprising for many geeky moms out there, but it does shed some light on our rather impressive human brains which, while still developing, are capable of remarkable feats. From the article at Pacific Lutheran University:
The study tested newborns on two sets of vowel sounds – 17 native language sounds and 17 foreign language sounds, said [research co-author Patricia] Kuhl. The researchers tested the babies’ interest in the vowel sounds based on how long and often they sucked on a pacifier. Half of the infants heard their native language vowels, and the other half heard the foreign vowels. “Each suck will produce a vowel until the infant pauses, and then the new suck will produce the next vowel sound,” said Kuhl.
In both countries, the babies listening to the foreign vowels sucked more than those listening to their native tongue regardless of how much postnatal experience they had. This indicated to researchers that they were learning the vowel sounds in utero.
“These little ones had been listening to their mother’s voice in the womb, and particularly her vowels for ten weeks. The mother has first dibs on influencing the child’s brain,” said Kuhl. “At birth, they are apparently ready for something novel.”
This language recognition is particularly notable during the last ten weeks of pregnancy. So expectant geek parents out there, mark your calendars. At 30 weeks in, you might want to consider which other language you’re going to start speaking to keep that developing brain sharp: Quenya, Klingon, or perhaps go for Middle English?