Babies able to tell through visual cues when speakers switch languages

May 24, 2007

At four months, babies can tell whether a speaker has switched to a different language from visual cues alone, according to a University of British Columbia study.

Researcher Whitney Weikum found that infants are able to discern when a different language is spoken by watching the shapes and rhythm of the speaker's mouth and face movements.

The findings suggest that older infants, raised in a monolingual environment, no longer need this facility. However, babies growing up in a bilingual environment advantageously maintain the discrimination abilities needed for separating and learning multiple languages.

In a paper to be published in the May 25 issue of the journal Science, Weikum explores whether babies use visual speech information to tell the difference between someone speaking their native language(s) and an unfamiliar language. Weikum is a UBC Neuroscience doctoral student working with Canada Research Chair and Psychology Prof. Janet Werker.

The researchers tested three groups of infants – ages four, six and eight months – from monolingual English homes and two groups of infants –ages six and eight months – from bilingual homes. They showed each group silent video clips of three bilingual French-English speakers, who recited sentences first in English or French, and then switched to the other language.

Their findings suggest that visual information alone will prompt the babies at four and six months to pay closer attention and watch the video for a longer period when the speakers switch languages.

"We already know that babies can tell languages apart using auditory cues," says Weikum. "But this is the first study to show that young babies are prepared to tell languages apart using only visual information."

The researchers found that six-month-old babies from both bilingual French-English and monolingual English homes could tell the languages apart visually. These groups would watch the video clips for a significantly longer period if the speaker switched languages.

However, by eight months, only babies from a bilingual French-English home and familiar with both languages were able to tell the languages apart visually.

"This suggests that by eight months, only babies learning more than one language need to maintain this ability. Babies who only hear and see one language don't need this ability, and their sensitivity to visual language information from other languages declines."

Source: University of British Columbia

Explore further: Infants recognize foreign languages as a form of communication

Related Stories

Infants recognize foreign languages as a form of communication

January 24, 2018
Infants recognize that speech in a language not their own is used for communication, finds a new psychology study. The results, which appear in the journal Cognition, offer new insights into how language is processed at a ...

How patient stories can improve intensive care

January 24, 2018
"Fighting to stay alive, I did the only thing I could do. I prayed. I couldn't bear to leave my baby motherless. I opened my eyes one last time to tell my husband I would be OK, and then lost consciousness, not to wake up ...

How childhood experiences contribute to the education-health link

February 7, 2018
The interconnection between education and health is well established.

Preterm babies may suffer setbacks in auditory brain development, speech

January 15, 2018
Preterm babies born early in the third trimester of pregnancy are likely to experience delays in the development of the auditory cortex, a brain region essential to hearing and understanding sound, a new study reveals. Such ...

For baby's brain to benefit, read the right books at the right time

December 11, 2017
Parents often receive books at pediatric checkups via programs like Reach Out and Read and hear from a variety of health professionals and educators that reading to their kids is critical for supporting development.

Who's in control when you're giving birth?

December 5, 2017
Kimberly Turbin wasn't expecting childbirth to be a pleasant experience, but she wasn't expecting it to be a nightmare either.

Recommended for you

Study looks at how newly discovered gene helps grow blood vessels

February 19, 2018
A new study published today found that a newly discovered gene helps grow blood vessels when it senses inadequate blood flow to tissues.

Scientists produce human intestinal lining that re-creates living tissue inside organ-chip

February 16, 2018
Investigators have demonstrated how cells of a human intestinal lining created outside an individual's body mirror living tissue when placed inside microengineered Intestine-Chips, opening the door to personalized testing ...

Data wave hits health care

February 16, 2018
Technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors fight one of the deadliest infections in American hospitals.

Researcher explains how statistics, neuroscience improve anesthesiology

February 16, 2018
It's intuitive that anesthesia operates in the brain, but the standard protocol among anesthesiologists when monitoring and dosing patients during surgery is to rely on indirect signs of arousal like movement, and changes ...

Team reports progress in pursuit of sickle cell cure

February 16, 2018
Scientists have successfully used gene editing to repair 20 to 40 percent of stem and progenitor cells taken from the peripheral blood of patients with sickle cell disease, according to Rice University bioengineer Gang Bao.

Appetite-controlling molecule could prevent 'rebound' weight gain after dieting

February 15, 2018
Scientists have revealed how mice control their appetite when under stress such as cold temperatures and starvation, according to a new study by Monash University and St Vincent's Institute in Melbourne. The results shed ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.