The sound of two languages spoken regularly during pregnancy might encourage babies to tune in to both tongues soon after birth, a new study finds.
A team of psychological scientists at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in France, watched the sucking reflexes of newborns born to either monolingual English-speaking women, or women who spoke both English and Tagalog, a language native to the Philippines.
The researchers explained that increased sucking behaviour indicates newborns' interest in a particular stimulus, including spoken language.
The team found that babies born to monolingual mothers exhibited increased sucking behaviours when they heard English, but not Tagalog, while infants born to the bilingual mothers showed interest, regardless of which of the two languages was being spoken.
Babies can tell when you change languages
A separate experiment suggested that infants could tell when a speaker switched from one language to the other. That's important, the team said, because it shows that from the very start babies born to bilingual mothers do not confuse the two languages.
"Monolingual newborns' preference for their single native language directs listening attention to that language," the researchers wrote. "Bilingual newborns' interest in both languages helps ensure attention to, and hence further learning about, each of their languages."
The study findings were released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Psychological Science. - (HealthDay News, February 2010)