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Baby Development Bilingual Babies Get Head Start, before they can Even Talk

Posted Apr 21 2009 11:13pm
By Colleen Hurley, RD, Certified Kids Nutrition Specialist If there is more than one language being spoken in the house, your natural inclination may be that it could be confusing for a new baby. It turns out just the opposite is true, as a new study found that bilingual households can give babies a head start, even before they utter their first words. Previous research on this subject matter has found that babies can indeed tell the difference between the sounds of various languages at a very young age. It has also been previously inferred that bilingual babies are smarter than monolingual infants, but the researchers note there is nothing to say that the monolinguals dont eventually catch up to their bilingual counterparts. In several European countries, parents have been apprehensive about teaching babies more than one language at a time, even if there are many being spoken in the household. The study author Jacques Mehler of the Language, Cognition, and Development Lab at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, explains that this study found that this is not the case at all. Involving 40 infants, the study tested babies ability to process language using cartoon critters on a computer screen. Half of the infants in the study were from Italian speaking only households, while the other half were from houses where Italian and another language was spoken. Two different types of word-like sounds were played for a split second before a character would appear in one of two areas on the screen. The test was designed to see if the babies could predict where the character would appear based on the sound cues. The bilingual group was able to learn a new sound type and predict where the character would pop up next, while the single language group did not. Being from bilingual households meant more than just switching languages, but also enhanced cognitive ability to pick the right tool for the right operation . This basic brain process, also known as executive function, allows the brain to switch from one learned response to another. It is not hopeless for monolingual babies, however, as they tend to hone this skill later in their young lives.
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