Babies can start picking up a language at four months old, says study

They might not be able to speak, but there’s no reason that babies as young as four months can’t be learning about language, according to new research. (I mean, what else have they got to do, nap?)

April Benasich and her colleagues at Rutgers University-Newark conducted an experiment with four-month-old babies. They played non-language audio patterns and when the babies paid attention to a change in the sound, they were rewarded with a short, colourful video. The aim was to get them used to recognising noises that could be language sounds, an important skill in the language learning process.

Three months later, brain scans showed that those babies picked up sounds that are important to language more quickly and accurately than seven month-olds who hadn’t been part of the experiment. Because babies of four to seven months are starting to mentally organise sensory information, this is the ideal time to work with them on language development skills.

Benasich says, ‘If you shape something while the baby is actually building it, it allows each infant to build the best possible auditory network for his or her particular brain. This provides a stronger foundation for any language the infant will be learning.’ She’s now helping to develop an interactive toy that can offer the same benefits.

And that’s not only good news for overbearing perfectionists who put too much pressure on their kids to be top of the class. Between eight and 15% of children have delayed speech and communication difficulties, so it’s possible that this could help their language development, too.

Image via Kitt Walker’s Flickr.

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Diane Shipley