Path-breaking research implies babies can understand language earlier than you think

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Even 6-month-old children can associate words with pictures, but only if they are exposed to the words. So mums, your investment in flash cards is worth it!

A new study has highlighted something startling that is going to change our existing understanding of language development in children. The study implies that even 6-month-old babies understand words. And this changes the current notion that language development in children happens only after the baby is one year old!

Language development in children

The current understanding is that children pick up a language only after they turn 1. and by extension, the language milestones are set according to the assumption. However, the study by Elika Bergelson, recently published in the PNAS, establishes that even though infants do not talk, point, or walk, they can understand common nouns and associate them with objects.

In simpler terms, if you show him a bottle of milk, and tell him it is milk every day, soon enough, he will remember the word ‘milk’ and associate it with the bottle. And it is interesting because now, all the infant enrichment classes start making sense, and it also means that you are not kiasu in getting him an early headstart in language learning!

The study

To understand neophyte language comprehension, 6-month-old babies were tested on one complex parameter, something that is displayed by a mature child who is learning a language – cross-word relation. What it means is, a) can a baby associate an image with a cord, and b) can he tell if two images are related or not.

This is pretty heavy stuff if you ask me! And quite impressive as well. To test the first part, the babies were monitored for their gaze. Due to lack of a proper channel for communicating, babies would look at an object for a longer time. So, the baby was shown 2 images on a screen simultaneously while the caregiver was asked to say a word. And babies looked at the right image longer!

For the second part, they were shown a pair of either related or unrelated images. For instance, hand and foot are related, while foot and juice are unrelated. When the caregiver said ‘foot’ in both the instances, babies looked at foot for a remarkably more time in the second instance, where the images were not related!

What this means for parents

Your child has all the potential, you just need to tap on it.

Language development in children is one of the biggest worries of every parent. The fact that different children learn languages differently does not help! That said, this study points out to one thing – if you spend time naming the things that a baby looks at, chances are that he will pick up the lexicon sooner. 

So here are three things that you can do to help your child learn his language faster.

  1. Spend more time interacting with the baby. Many mums tend to check their phones while feeding the baby. And it is understandable, as, in the early days, babies take a long time on each breast. However, use this time to talk softly to the baby. You will notice that they respond differently to different tones. This is the foundation for language learning.
  2. Point out to objects. When you are out for a stroll, or just spending time at home, point and name everyday objects. Start with 3 objects and repeat them for 3 days. Then, keep on adding one object every day, revising each one every day. Build this up to 30 objects. You can start as early as you want.
  3. Flashcards. Invest in good flashcards. If you can get your hands on the textured ones, this is even better. Again, don’t overburden with new information every day. Stick to 10-20 cards as repetition is the key. You need to keep on repeating the stuff every day. This is because the child is learning every day and might forget something if not reiterated!

Mums, I hope this helps in your journey towards language development in children.

Also, read Breastfeeding and childhood allergies: What’s the link?

Baby Milestones Language Development