If you have an 8-month-old baby, talk to him as much as you can. He understands you and would love to answer, only he can’t quite do it yet.
A research study from the University of Washington published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, when a baby listens to adults talking, his areas of the brain that coordinate and plan motor movements for speech are stimulated.
The baby’s brain begins to lay the groundwork for how to form words long before he actually starts talking.
“Most babies babble at seven months but do not begin to speak until after their first birthday,” says lead study author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning Sciences and Brain at the University of Washington.
“Finding the activation in the motor areas of the brain when babies are just listening is important because it means that the baby’s brain is devoted to trying to speak from the beginning and suggests that the brains of seven months of age are already trying to figure out how make the right moves that will produce the words,” she explains.
Your 7 month-old baby wants to talk!
It’s, however, unclear just how the transition between speech perception and verbalization of his first words occurs.
Therefore, a group of experts from the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington studied 25 babies of 7 months of age and 24 babies at 11 months of age.
None had shown signs of neurological or hearing problems that could delay the usual process of language acquisition.
All of them sat in a chair with safety belt assembled on a brain scan called magnetoencephalography. The Institute of Washington was the first institution in the world to use this tool to study the brains of babies while they were performing a task.Through this non-invasive technique, researchers took measurements of the brain activity of the babies in various situations. They spoke to them in English (their mother tongue) and in Spanish (the foreign language chosen by the researchers).
One of the main conclusions drawn from the study is that 7- month-old babies were trying to speak and attempting to figure out how to make the right moves to produce a response to the words they heard.
Our native language is easier to understand
Specifically, the researchers observed brain activity in an auditory area called temporal gyrus, as well as in the Broca’s area and the cerebellum, regions responsible for planning motor movements necessary for speech production.
Until 8 months of age, those areas were activated with both the mother tongue and the foreign one, demonstrating that at that age, infants respond to all speech sounds.
However, after 8 months of age, brain activity is different.
At 11 and 12 months, the activity of the motor brain areas is increased with no regard to the native sounds of the mother tongue. This could mean that, at this age, babies need more effort to find out how to speak in a foreign language, compared with the native tongue. But, if adults speak to them consistently in two languages, they will learn both anyway.
To resume, talk to your baby as much as you can. Although he won’t answer you with words, his brain is working hard, trying to imitate what he hears. And the more you talk to him, the sooner you will hear him saying his own first words.
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