When Dr. Raul Artal, director of obstetrics at St. Marys Health
Center, counseled his own pregnant daughter last year, he told her
to play music to soothe her gestating baby.
Now a new study shows that Artals infant grandson may have
learned language skills in addition to his mothers taste in music
during his time in the womb.
The study out of Tacoma, Wash., and Stockholm, Sweden, shows that
during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, babies glean language
information from their mothers. The findings mark one of the first
times scientists have seen evidence that language learning begins in
Researchers examined 80 American and Swedish infants an even mix
of girls and boys. Thirty hours after the babies were born,
researchers outfitted them with headphones that played vowel sounds
in both their native tongue and the foreign language.
Pacifiers wired to a computer measured the babies reactions to
the different sounds.
The more a baby sucked after hearing a computer-generated vowel,
the more she demonstrated interest in that particular language-
Researchers found that the newborns sucked longer for the foreign
language, suggesting that the infants already had a familiarity with
their native tongue at birth.
The researchers concluded that the babies in both countries, not
yet 2 days old, had learned prenatally to differentiate between
sounds and languages.
Thanks to mom.
This study confirms the importance of talking a lot to the baby,
said Dr. Hugo Lagercrantz, professor of pediatrics at the Karolinska
Institute in Stockholm and co-author of the study. Although the
newborn infant does not start to talk yet, its brain is like a
magnet absorbing phonemes.
Artal, who is also the chair of the obstetrics and gynecology
department at St. Louis University School of Medicine, said, This is
a very sophisticated study. They were able to quantify responses to
familiar sounds, but the phenomenon has existed for hundreds of
years, if not thousands.
The study is another breakthrough in understanding how and when
babies begin to process what they are hearing inside the womb.
Hearing develops during the last trimester of pregnancy, with the
cochlea the coiled inner ear cavity maturing in the last few
Scientists have long known that babies react to their mothers
voice. A 2003 study found that babies heart rates speed up when
hearing their mothers voice read poetry but slow when trying to
understand verse read by someone else. …