I’ve always believed that babies catch onto things faster than a lot of people give them credit. That’s one reason I’ve never used “baby talk” with my kids, and discourage my 5-year-old from talking like that to my 5-month-old. “Just talk to her like a regular person,” I tell her. “That’s how the baby learns our language, from how you speak.” We all take pride in seeing our babies grow and develop. I think babies are like sponges, soaking in everything around them, so the more I can facilitate that learning experience, the better. That’s why I was interested to read about a new study that says babies might comprehend words and their meaning sooner than expected.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “had 33 babies between 6 and 9 months old view a screen with a picture of a food and a body part while sitting with their parents. The parents were given phrases to say to the child, asking them to find the apple, for instance. An eye-tracking device revealed the babies' responses to the phrases. In a second test, the children went through the same process but saw pictures of typical food scenes and a whole person, not just body parts.” Researchers compared the responses of this age group with older babies. In both situations, the babies seemed to look at the image of the word being spoken more than any other. The researchers determined that this was a sign of word comprehension.
Most psychologists believe that this type of understanding doesn’t develop until closer to one year of age, which is why these results might be surprising. What’s also interesting is that the babies seemed to recognize categories of words. For example, they could look at the image of the word “apple”, even if the picture of the apple was different (color, background, etc.) That implies a greater understanding of the meaning of some words.
“The study's authors said babies at 8 and 9 months performed no better than 6- and 7-month-old infants. They said no significant improvement was seen until the children reached about 14 months of age. They could not explain exactly why performance did not improve for so long.”
I don’t think this study means that babies are secretly geniuses (although we all think our children are brilliant, right?) who have an extensive understanding of language and meaning. But as I said before, I think babies understand and pick up on a lot of things from a very early age. That’s why I think it’s never too early to talk to your baby (even if it’s just telling them what you’re doing as they watch you cook dinner) and read to them regularly. My daughter would rather chew on a book at this point than read it, but that’s okay for now.
What do you think?
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