Researchers from the Pacific Lutheran University, the University of Washington and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have discovered language learning begins while we are still in our mother’s womb.
The researchers believe language learning begins at 30
weeks of gestation, when a fetus develops the sense of hearing. During the last 10 weeks of gestation -pregnancy usually ends at week 40 – a fetus can hear its mother speaking and starts to learn the variations in her words, initially vowel sounds. Just hours after birth, newborns can recognize their native tongue, differentiating between sounds
in their native language and sounds in a foreign language.
In the study, 40
newborns from the United States and 40 from Sweden (all between seven hours and three days old) were made to listen to
vowel sounds from their native language and non-native language. A newborn’s interest and response to the sounds was measured by the time he/she sucked on a pacifier that was connected to a computer. Babies will suck on a pacifier for longer when exposed to something unfamiliar. Both in the United States and in Sweden, newborns sucked on pacifiers for longer when they heard vowel sounds from their non-native language compared to when they heard sounds in their mother tongue.
Previous studies have shown babies begin to discern between language sounds in the first few months of life; but this is the first study to demonstrate language learning actually begins in utero.