Unborn babies can learn languages

We all know that kids can learn languages quicker than adults. But did you know that even unborn babies can learn languages? Talk about starting young…

Check out the latest discovery from a Swedish-American team of researchers.

“We showed that the foetus during the last ten weeks of the pregnancy not only listens to but

remembers and learns languages,” Patricia Kuhl at the Washington University Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences told the BBC.

It was already known that babies during their last weeks in the womb could recognize their mother's voice and vocal melody. After studying newborns, however, a Swedish-American team of scientists proved that the babies had learned a lot more than that.

The scientists studied forty infants who were just 30 hours old. The baby boys and girls were then made to listen to vocal sounds in Swedish and English.

The American babies would start sucking their pacifiers more intently when they heard Swedish vowels, which researchers interpreted as a sign of curiosity upon hearing a foreign tongue. The Swedish babies reacted similarly when they heard English sounds.

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How babies learn language

Fascinating research on how words are “born”. Deb Roy studies how his own son acquires language and use new words. In an effort to understand how children learn words, he wired his home with bird’s-eye view cameras and microphones for three years to collect data on his son. The home videos begin with his son’s arrival home from the hospital and end at the age of 3 years, offering Roy and his team unprecedented access to real-life moments in the language learning process.

As my students and I immersed ourselves in over 200,000 hours of home audio and video recordings, we began thinking of language acquisition as a series of “word births.” With a near-complete record of life at home over the first two years of my son’s life, we were able to pinpoint each time he learned to say a new word. We could then trace back in time to find each occasion where he heard that word from caregivers — the “gestation” period leading to the word’s birth.

It’s amazing to see 2 year olds use new words,  somehow managing to make sense of it all.

To visualize the gestation period of words, another of my students, Philip DeCamp developed “wordscapes,” a collage of human movement traces extracted from all the video moments when my son heard a particular word. I showed examples of wordscapes in my TED talk, but we had yet to analyze their relationship to word births. Recently, my student Matt Miller found that wordscapes are surprisingly predictive of the timing of word births. Words with unique wordscapes tend to be learned earlier and more easily, at least for my son. This finding suggests ways that we can help children learn language more effectively by manipulating the non-linguistic contexts in which they experience language.

The results of this research could transform the way language is taught to adults. Teaching a foreign language effectively in as short a period as possible is the holy grail for language educators.  Euroasia will certainly be keeping an eye on developments in this


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How do babies learn new languages? Astonishing new findings

In this TED video, Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.

Why do babies pick up language easily? There is widespread acceptance amongst the language learning community

that children pick up languages easily. How they do this is not as well understood.

According to Kuhl, cheap car insurance quotes babies are listening intently to us, they are “taking statistics” depending on how adults talk. In this video, she gives some examples of Japanese and American babies learning their native language.

In English, babies use a lot of RA and LA. But the Japanese do not, so the study shows that though both Japanese and American babies respond early on to the same RA and LA sounds, but somehow as the babies grow older the American babies respond better to RA and LA, but the Japanese babies deteriorate ie. what sounds babies are exposed to matter.

Bilingual babies have to keep two sets of “statistics”. Do they get confused?

Kuhl tested sets of American vs Taiwanese babies at 6-8 months vs 10-12 months

The experiment exposed American babies to Mandarin sounds at these time intervals. American babies exposed to a Mandarin speaker over 12 sessions have equivalent respoonses to those living in Taiwan. This is an amazing finding.

Kuhl then tried to replicate this with audio and TV/video.  If the baby is exposed to audio alone or TV/video alone, babies do not absorb the “statistics”. Only human interaction matters. This has enormous implications for parents

who spend thousands of dollars buying video/audio packs for babies in French, Spanish, Mandarin etc.

Kuhl closed her lecture with some food for thought.

In investigating the child’s brain, we will discover deep truths about what it means to be human. And in the process we may be able to help keep our own minds open to learning for our entire lives.

Watch the video. Highly recommended for everyone, not just parents with kids.

Posted via email from Euroasia

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