Mothers-to-be, Language Development Starts Even Before Birth!

Khryss | Published 2017-07-28 12:17

Remember those moments when you gently caress that big bump in your tummy while you whisper words to your baby and feel like their actually hearing (and understanding) you? Well, chances are, they really are. What's more is that you might even be already teaching them your language.

“Fetuses can hear things, including speech, in the womb. It’s muffled, like the adults talking in a ‘Peanuts’ cartoon, but the rhythm of the language should be preserved and available for the fetus to hear, even though the speech is muffled,” says Utako Minai, associate professor of linguistics and team leader for the study.

Together with her team, they've examined 24 eight months pregnant women that speaks English with the help of MCG.

 “We have one of two dedicated fetal biomagnetometers in the United States,” says Kathleen Gustafson, a research associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the medical center’s Hoglund Brain Imaging Center and author of the study. “It fits over the maternal abdomen and detects tiny magnetic fields that surround electrical currents from the maternal and fetal bodies.”

“The biomagnetometer is more sensitive than ultrasound to the beat-to-beat changes in heart rate,” she said. “Obviously, the heart doesn’t hear, so if the baby responds to the language change by altering heart rate, the response would be directed by the brain.”

Researchers utilized two recordings of a bilingual speaker--English and Japanese--to let the fetus hear. They suggested that these language are very rhythmically distinctive. With this, results showed that indeed, fetal heart rates changed when played with the unfamiliar Japanese recording after the English speech. Moreover, there were no change in their heart rates when played with another English recording instead of the Japanese.

“These results suggest that language development may indeed start in utero," Minai said. "Fetuses are tuning their ears to the language they are going to acquire even before they are born, based on the speech signals available to them in utero. Prenatal sensitivity to the rhythmic properties of language may provide children with one of the very first building blocks in acquiring language.”

So, that heart to heart talks may not necessarily be understood by your baby but it's still helpful in its own ways.

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