Baby lab reveals surprisingly early gift of gab

December 9, 2011, University of Notre Dame

From the moment they're born, babies are highly attuned to communicate and motivated to interact. And they're great listeners.

New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that during the first year of life, when spend so much time listening to language, they're actually tracking word patterns that will support their process of word- learning that occurs between the ages of about 18 months and two years.

"Babies are constantly looking for language clues in context and ," says Jill Lany, assistant professor of and director of Notre Dame's baby lab, where she conducts studies on how babies acquire language.

"My research suggests that there are some surprising clues in the sound stream that may help babies learn the meanings of words. They can distinguish different kinds of words like nouns and verbs by information in that sound stream."

Lany's studies shows that babies as young as twelve months can identify "adjacent relationships" in which a phrase or sound like "it's a" occurs immediately before an object.

"If I were to say to you, 'Oh look, it's a dax,' you might not know what a 'dax' is but the cue 'it's a' let's a baby know that what follows is an object," Lany says.

Similarly, if a person were to say "I'm daxing it," the same principal is at work with cues and word patterns that indicate a verb or action word. Babies actually can use these patterns as clues to the meanings of new words they are learning.

By about 15 months, babies are able to track more complicated "non-adjacent relationships" in which the word cue may be even further removed.

"We often think about coming after word-learning, but in fact, my research shows that all this information that babies are picking up in that first year of life about how are occurring in their language, actually is supporting this process of word-learning prior to mastery of language."

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not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
They should try this without allowing the babies to see the researchers' mouths forming the words.

Iow, if they couldn't see a mouth speaking to them, would it effect the way they learn language ?
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
Actually the learning of language is pretty difficult, if you have no clue, what the language is and you don't know any. The learning of another language is a much easier, because you can refer to your existing knowledge and analogies. Despite of this, many people learn the foreign languages many years, whereas the children can learn mother language from scratch in just three to four years. It's remarkable intellectual performance, not corresponding the alleged silliness of children's brain.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
Peek-a-boo is one of the sounds encountered. The sound boo has an unimaginable broad spectrum of meaning - movement, eye contact, surprise, etc,. etc.

Normally you don't see the mouth of your booer, just their eyes.

One of the first sounds encountered and one of the last sounds spoken to convey meaning about anything tangible.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
I wonder then if babies can be taught multilingual capabilities right off the bat. Maybe teach them two languages at once while they are so receptive.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
Isaac, most of the time the child doesn't see the mouth. He may be in his crib while Mom is on the phone. (Which women do all the time when Dad is working.) Later the child is playing and again Mom talks with the neighbor, or a friend is over.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
Two languages at a time is usual in countries with more than one language. In Canada a lot of babies learn French from one parent and English from the other. The same is true in many European countries.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
In Asia, children at a very young age learn multiple languages. My nephew who is only 18 months old can count in Spanish, English, Tagalog and Chinese. He was taught how to count in Spanish in 1 sitting, he repeated it several times after without flaw. Two factors,I believe are very important in learning new languages, the manner of teaching as well as learning the language from a native speaker.

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