Your baby and pre-language

As the pregnancy train travels down the tracks, there is one thing that you and your family may be enjoying, and that’s talking to your baby! you might also share the urge to share some of your favorite music (to ensure that Baby knows exactly who The Beatles are when she arrives of course).

Both of these are great ways to bond with Baby before she’s born. You don’t even need headphones to show her all the wonders of your music collection. She can attend the home concert comfortably from her seat, and the distance from the speakers could help keep her ears safe while they’re still developing. But if you’ve been using regular headphones, don’t worry, just make sure to keep the volume on the softer side (around 50 decibels, or the sound level of a quiet washing machine) and try to make the jam sessions with headphones fairly short. You could also look into specialized speakers that are made to safely transmit sound straight from your baby bump.

According to Mayo Clinic, somewhere around the 25 week mark is when your baby will start to recognize familiar voices and sounds. This means that all of the love you’ve been giving won’t go unnoticed, and your favorite bands will be heard loud and clear. Studies have even found that all of this singing and talking could have a pretty neat impact after birth.

We all know that babies don’t come out reciting Shakespeare and singing show tunes, but because of what they were exposed to in the womb, they may already be pretty adept at recognizing the speech and rhythm patterns of those plays and songs. The building blocks for language have already been laid out by the time a baby is born, and they start to use those skills right away.

It might be kinda funny to say that babies might already have “memories” of people talking or singing before they’ve come into the world, but is it that far off? Well, yes and no. Babies have no context for those silly sounds we call words, but just like recognizing their parent’s voice, they can recognize certain speech patterns and pronunciations.

Think of it this way: if you hear the word, “erinaceous,” you may not know exactly what it means (we promise it’s a real word), and it can easily be forgotten, especially if you don’t know the meaning. But, if you hear it enough, at some point you’ll be able to hear the word out of the blue and say, “yes, I recognize that word!” Even if you still don’t know what it means, the sound will probably become familiar. It’s very similar with babies. A study actually tested this by asking expecting parents to play a recording of a made-up word, “tatata” with some music mixed in to their unborn babies. When those babies were born, they had heard that word about 25,000 times with various pronunciations and speech patterns. Then, once those bundles of joy were in the world for about a month, they were brought in again to listen to the same recordings.

By looking at the neural signs that they were giving off, the study was able to determine that the babies were actually able to recognize “tatata,” even when pronounced in different ways and at different pitches when they hadn’t heard the word since they were in the womb! The findings were then compared to the reactions of babies that were not exposed to the same sounds. Since it’s a made-up word, no surprise, the babies in the control group didn’t recognize it. The control group also had a little more difficulty with differentiating the different variations of “tatata,” leading the team to believe that babies might actually learn a lot more about language and pronunciation before they’re born than they previously thought.

Now, you may be wondering if your baby will be behind in life because you haven’t been talking in different accents and languages before they arrive. Don’t worry, there’s no evidence that’s the case. Babies don’t really have the same challenges adults or older children have when trying to learn new words and languages. They’re pretty much blank slates, and almost every word and sound is new to them at a month old (especially made-up ones). All this really means is that your baby is always listening, and always learning from the world around her even before she’s born. So continue talking, continue singing, and your baby might come out recognizing more than just your voice!


Sources
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Fetal development: The 2nd trimester” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. January 8, 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/fetal-development/art-20046151
  • Eino Partanen, Teija Kujala, Risto Näätänen, Auli Liitola, Anke Sambeth, and Minna Huotilainen. “Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth”. National Academy of Sciences. Web. September 10, 2013. http://www.pnas.org/content/110/37/15145
  • Perri Klas, M.D.. “Language Lessons Start in the Womb”. New York Times. New York Times. February 21, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/21/well/family/language-lessons-start-in-the-womb.html

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