Ba­bies lan­guage smart in womb

The Star Early Edition - - LIFESTYLE VERVE -

LON­DON: Un­born ba­bies are able to recog­nise the dif­fer­ence be­tween two lan­guages, sci­en­tists have found. Foe­tuses are able to dis­tin­guish be­tween English and Ja­panese even a month be­fore they are born and re­spond dif­fer­ently to hear­ing a lan­guage they are not fa­mil­iar with.

The study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Neu­roRe­port, was con­ducted by a team at the Univer­sity of Kansas, and used a sam­ple of 24 preg­nant women in the US. It tested whether foe­tuses re­sponded dif­fer­ently to the rhythm of a lan­guage that was new to them. English and Ja­panese have very dif­fer­ent rhythms; English is spo­ken in bursts while Ja­panese has a more reg­u­lar tempo.

Re­searchers played an au­dio clip in Ja­panese fol­lowed by one in English, both read by the same per­son, and used mag­netic imag­ing to mea­sure the foe­tus’s heart rate. They found that the un­born ba­bies’ heart rates changed when they heard the Ja­panese lan­guage, with which they were un­fa­mil­iar, while there was no vari­a­tion when they heard the clip in English show­ing that they recog­nised a rhyth­mi­cal dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. Ex­perts said the find­ing sug­gested lan­guage de­vel­op­ment be­gins be­fore birth and the study could pave the way for fur­ther re­search on the neu­ral abil­i­ties of un­born ba­bies.

“These re­sults sug­gest that lan­guage de­vel­op­ment may in­deed start in utero,” said Utako Mi­nai, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of lin­guis­tics at the Univer­sity of Kansas and the lead re­searcher on the study. “Foe­tuses are tun­ing their ears to the lan­guage they are go­ing to ac­quire even be­fore they are born, based on the speech sig­nals avail­able to them in utero.”

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have shown that new­born ba­bies re­spond dif­fer­ently to dif­fer­ent lan­guages, but this is the first time a sim­i­lar find­ing has been made in un­born chil­dren us­ing the most ac­cu­rate tech­nol­ogy avail­able. – The In­de­pen­dent

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