Babies can learn words before birth

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 19th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You’ve probably heard of strapping headphones on your tummy to let your little one listen to music before entering the world. Want to give your baby a head start on their vocabulary, too? It’s never too soon to start. A fascinating new study from Finland found that babies can remember words from when they were in the womb.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested the theory by speaking a pseudoword — “tatata” — to babies in the womb. The word means nothing in the Finnish language but sounds like it could, and was designed to be difficult for babies to learn. From week 29 of pregnancy to birth, half of the babies listened to recordings of the word, which sometimes varied the word’s pronunciation. Then when they were born, scientists scanned brain activity when babies listened to the word. Those who had heard it in the womb reacted more vividly. They could also detect changes in the word better. Babies begin to hear about halfway through pregnancy, so it’s possible to give them a brainpower boost before birth.

Once baby is born, it’s important to continue language development by talking to them frequently, singing, repeating words and reading books. Once baby is 6 months old, you can even begin to teach sign language to offer them another way to express themselves before they can even say “mama.” From ages 1 to 2, engage your child in conversation, speak slowly and carefully and take time to actively nurture your child’s language development rather than let them learn from the T-V. From age 2 to 4, encourage little ones to talk to others and gently correct speech by rephrasing and repeating. Limit TV time to two hours a day or less, and keep reading.