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15 July 2014

Talking to infants important from the start

The baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and 7-month-olds' brains are already trying to figure out how to produce words.

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Infants' brains start laying the groundwork for the physical requirements of speech long before they utter their first words, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at 7- to 12-month-old infants and found that speech from people around them stimulates areas of the brain that coordinate and plan the motor movements necessary for speech.

Read: Brain uses 'acoustic signatures' to understand language

"Most babies babble by 7 months, but don't utter their first words until after their first birthday," study author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, in Seattle, said in a university news release.

"Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds' brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words," she explained.

Read: Babies sensitive to social relationships

The study included 57 infants and used a type of brain scanning technique that is completely safe for infants, the authors noted in the news release.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show the importance of talking to infants before they start to speak.

"Hearing us talk exercises the action areas of infants' brains, going beyond what we thought happens when we talk to them," Kuhl said. "Infants' brains are preparing them to act on the world by practicing how to speak before they actually say a word."

Read more:

Babies use specific brain areas to imitate people
Babies' brains benefit from music lessons
Babies need fatty acids for brain growth

 
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