While many babies utter their first word around the time of their first birthday, new research has suggested that talking to your baby stimulates their language development at a much earlier stage.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared how 7- and 11-month-old babies from English-speaking families processed English and Spanish sounds.
Researchers at the University of Washington examined the brain activation of 57 babies aged 7, 11 and 12 months as they listened to speech sounds played over a loudspeaker.
At 7 months, infants responded equally to both English and Spanish sounds.
However, researchers noticed that 11-month-olds experienced greater activation of the motor areas in the brain for English sounds.
Dr. Patricia Kuhl, the lead researcher on the study, said: “What we believe is happening is that the babies are dying to talk back.
“It means that babies even at an early age are practicing and rehearsing and activating brains in a social way so that when we serve something to them, they’re attempting to volley back.”
These findings reinforce the importance of talking regularly to your baby, rather than focusing on other forms of entertainment.
“When [babies] look at the TV set, they seem interested but their brains don’t learn,” Kuhl said. “Babies recognize and can distinguish the sounds only if they heard live speakers present to them – only if they were interacting socially.”
Dr. Gordon Ramsay, director of the spoken communication laboratory at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, adds: “The message for parents is that speech acquisition in infancy is built upon a scaffold of sensory experience, motor activity and social interaction.
“All these components need to come together in the natural resonant coupling between child, caregiver and environment if every child is to progress along the path to spoken language.”
Ramsay also pointed out that the research would have been more effective if same babies had been studied throughout their development, rather than individually at different stages, due to the variability between children.
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