Learn to Speak English: How babies detect languages
As previously discussed, when babies are born the language centers of their minds are similar to blank slates which readily absorb the sounds, words and innate grammatical structure of whatever dominant language they are exposed to in their environment. Part of this process occurs subconsciously as the child observes various objects, sounds, actions and ideas and begins to associate them with specific words and phrases. How quickly a child begins to learn to speak English is dependent on a variety of factors related to socialization. Mimicking the speech sounds made by others also helps a child become acquainted with what will become their native language. This begs the question, “At what point do babies begin to detect that not everyone speaks the same language?”
By the time they are 13 months old, babies can distinguish between the words and sounds found in their native language and those in foreign languages. Dr. Annette Henderson and Jessica Scott of the University of Auckland led a study into the language processing ability of babies.
Learn to speak English Learning through rhyme
The test involved babies from English speaking families in Auckland, New Zealand, who were shown video clips featuring two actors who sang well known nursery rhymes in English and French respectively. The French speaker was then shown picking up an object the babies had never seen before and giving it a name which in theory would stand out: “Medo.”
Henderson and Scott needed to ensure their experiment was assessing the right variable, an infant’s ability to retain names of objects. In one session, the children saw the French speaker pick up the object that had previously been named Medo and again refer to the object by its established name. A separate session saw the French speaker come in, pick up an object that had not been identified in the prior experiment, and refer to it as Mendo. Infants were seen to gaze longer when the speaker referred to the unnamed object as Medo. They knew the term shouldn’t be applied to separate objects. As they learn to speak English, infants take what rules they view as established in their native language and expect these rules to be followed in other languages.
When the English speaker repeated the routine described above, the infants viewed both objects for an equal amount of time. The researchers concluded infants understand individuals who speak different languages use different words for the same object. Such behavior also suggests infants play a more active role in how they learn to speak English and the personal development of their vocabulary than was originally thought.
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