Latest research suggest that infants as young as seven months old have something they just cannot wait to say. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that babies begin practicing words they hear spoken as early as seven months. Although it is known that babies usually do not speak until their first birthday, activity in certain parts of the brain show that babies are trying to talk back much sooner.
Lead writer for the article, Patricia Kuhl, is a speech psychologist for the University of Washington in Seattle. The team of researchers used a baby friendly device called magnetoencephalography (MEG) to study the brain activity of 57 infants. While a child was nestled into the machine, the team of researchers surveyed how the baby’s brain responded to the sound of a human voice speaking different syllables in English and Spanish. Babies were studied at the age of seven months then again at 11 to 12 months. Researchers found more than what they were expecting based on the areas of the brain that were engaged.
They found babies were practicing speech. Babies who were seven months old especially were looking for the correct motor skills and sounds and appeared to want to communicate to the person that was talking to them. It seems that the infants had something they wanted to say. The patterns observed suggested a social reaction as the children were being spoken to by the researchers.
Scans of the babies’ brains showed increased activity in the areas of the brain where motor skills are processed. This indicates that babies, while appearing to only be listening, are also trying to respond.
Another finding was as the infants got closer to 11 or 12 months of age they began to focus more specifically on sounds that were familiar to them. Children from English-speaking families honed in on English sounds while children from Spanish-speaking families focused more on the Spanish sounding syllables.
The study highlights two major subjects when understanding how babies develop and process language skills. Kuhl suggest that “parentese,” more commonly called “baby talk” is important for a child’s speech development. She further suggest that baby talk, using short simplifications of one’s own words, is a good way to promote social development. This is a controversial idea. Most studies do agree that “parentese” can be helpful in speech development as the high-pitched sounds can be more appealing to an infant. But experts warn against baby talk being the only form of communication and highly recommend some normal speech exposure. Kuhl recognizes this and plans to do further research to determine to what extent, if any, that babies respond to baby talk.
Kuhl went on to say, “Babies recognize and can distinguish the sounds only if they heard live speakers present to them – only if they were interacting socially.” She further said, “When [babies] look at the TV set, they seem interested but their brains don’t learn.” This further emphasizes the importance of actually speaking to your baby. Human speech is something a baby wants and needs to hear for proper development. Not only are infants listening they have something they are practicing and want to say.
By Ashley Poag
Science World Report