Researchers are finding our something that most moms already knew, your baby is a smart little monkey.
The word “infant” comes from the Latin, meaning “unable to speak,” but babies are building the foundations for babbling and language before they are born, responding to muffled sounds that travel through amniotic fluid.
Soon after birth, infants are keen and sophisticated generalists, capable of seeing details in the world that are visible to some other animals but invisible to adults, older children and even slightly older infants.
Recently, scientists have learned the following:
- At a few days old, infants can pick out their native tongue from a foreign one.
- At 4 or 5 months, infants can lip read, matching faces on silent videos to “ee” and “ah” sounds.
- Infants can recognize the consonants and vowels of all languages on Earth, and they can hear the difference between foreign language sounds that elude most adults.
- Infants in their first six months can tell the difference between two monkey faces that an older person would say are identical, and they can match calls that monkeys make with pictures of their faces.
- Infants are rhythm experts, capable of differentiating between the beats of their culture and another.
- An Infants that is just 4 months old can tell whether someone is speaking in their native tongue or not without any sound, just by watching a silent movie of their speech. This ability disappears by the age of 8 months, however, unless the child grows up in a bilingual environment and therefore needs to use the skill.
“We don’t just see a rose,” Hollich explained. “We feel the softness of its petals and we smell its perfume. Likewise, language isn’t just hearing or seeing a word ‘rose.’ We immediately relate that word to a rose’s sight, touch and smell, even the sight of a person saying that word. Ben Franklin noted that he could ‘understand French better by the help of his spectacles.’ This work shows that infants too can recognize some languages solely by looking on the face.”
Weikum’s study adds to mounting evidence showing how infants move from being “universal perceivers,” equally capable of learning any of the world’s languages, to being specialists in the sounds, meanings and structure of their own native tongue over the first year of life, said Hollich, who studies infant language.