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Babies can recognise different languages

Babies as young as 13 months old can detect different languages, an Auckland University study has found.

Babies can recognise different languages

Published in the journal Development Psychology by Jessica Scott and Dr. Annette Henderson, the infants understood that different languages were used by people from varying backgrounds to describe the same object.

“By that age, infants understand that people who speak different languages do not use the same words in the same way,” says Dr Henderson from the University’s Early Learning Laboratory. “This is the first evidence that infants do not indiscriminately generalise words across people.”

“This early appreciation might help infants by encouraging them to focus on learning the words that will most likely be shared by members of their own linguistic group,” she says.

“They understand that object labels (word meanings) have shared meanings among speakers of the same language.”

“This finding shows that infants appreciate that words are not shared by speakers of different languages, suggesting that infants have a fairly nuanced understanding of the conventional nature of language,” Dr Henderson added.

“People often think that babies absorb language and you don’t have to teach them, (and they do absorb it and they learn very passively), but they’re not just learning willy-nilly, they’re being smart and making distinctions about the words they hear and use.”

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