The miracle of a child’s first word boggles most, if not all parents. And why not, when the magical first words are “Mama” or “Papa”?
How exactly do babies learn how to talk? Babies normally start talking in that period when they’re shifting from babbling, saying gibberish, to saying their first words, typical at age 1. Past studies have investigated the audio aspect of it, in terms of how infants imitate the sounds they hear. But new research by the Florida Atlantic University shows that besides listening to the sound of an adult’s voice, they actually observe as well the movement of the mouth in the middle of speech.
Babies typically begin learning how to talk by first gazing intently into other people’s eyes and then studying lip movement when being talked to. Leader of the study, developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz, explains this is so because it is during this period of an infant’s growth that their brains gain more control over attention than simply looking toward noise.
Yes, apparently, babies are lip-readers too, and they use this skill in order to learn how to talk, which usually occurs during their 6th month. Lewkowicz and his co-researchers gathered 180 babies, ages of whom ranged from four months to 12 months, and had them watch two videos; one that of a woman talking in English, and the other one of a woman talking in Spanish. A headband with a device attached to it helped record how the babies reacted and behaved to the videos.
The results showed that when the English-speaking woman was talking, the 4-month-olds stared intently into the video. The 6-month-olds looked both at the speaker’s eyes and mouth while talking. The 8 and 10-month-olds observed mostly the lip movement.
When the Spanish speaker was shown, however, and to these babies Spanish is a foreign language, they looked at the woman longer, showing behavior more typical of young infants just discovering language. They needed to study the speaker more since the language was new to them.
What can be said about the babies who gaze at the speaker longer? Lewkowicz comments that they are “...are probably not developing age-appropriate perceptual and cognitive skills and may be at risk for disorders like autism.”
Given the significant findings of this study, researchers believe it may help yield more insight to help provide earlier intervention for children with autism, as well as distinguishing different patterns of development for children at risk for the condition. Notes Lewkowicz, ““The earlier we can diagnose it (autism), the more effectively we can ensure the best possible developmental outcomes.”
You may also want to read:
• January 16, 2012. Lauren Neergaard. “Babies Learn To Talk By Reading Lips, New Research Suggests” hufftingtonpost.com
• January 17, 2012. Joan Raymond. “Babies learn to speak by lip-reading, could offer autism clues” msnbc.msn.com
• Bruce Bower. “Babies lip-read before talking” sciencenews.org
Photo by tomhe via flickr creative commons