Tuesday, January 24, 2017 by Vicki Batts
New research shows that babies begin to build their knowledge about language even in the first few months of life. Even if you have moved countries and forgotten your birth language, science now shows that it is even possible to retain some hidden abilities.
A recent scientific study, led by Dr. Jiyoun Choi of Hanyang University in Seoul, found that Dutch-speaking adults who were adopted from Korea as babies excelled at learning the Korean language they had long-forgotten. They even exceeded expectations for pronunciation. Scientists are saying that speaking to your baby often, even early in life, seems to be of great importance. (Related: Keep up to date with health headlines at Natural News)
These findings are the first to show that adopted children who have early experience with their birth language seem to have an advantage at speaking it, even decades after they think they have forgotten it.
Dr. Choi told BBC News, ”This finding indicates that useful language knowledge is laid down in [the] very early months of life, which can be retained without further input of the language and revealed via re-learning.”
To conduct the scientific research, Choi and her team asked adults who were about 30 years old who had been adopted as babies by Dutch-speaking families to pronounce Korean consonants after a short training course. The adopted participants were compared to another group of adults who had not been exposed to the Korean language as infants. A panel of native Korean speakers then rated each group’s pronunciation.
The consonants of the Korean language are very different from those used in Dutch, making it a bit more challenging, but also more telling.
Both groups’ pronunciation was rated to be at the same level prior to receiving the training course. But, after the training, the internationally adopted adults greatly exceeded the researchers’ expectations.
Most notably, however, was that the results suggested there was no difference in pronunciation proficiency between children who were adopted under 6 months of age — before learning to speak — and those adopted after 17 months of age — after learning to talk.
This finding suggests that retained language knowledge may be more abstract in nature, as opposed to being dependent on experience.
Dr. Choi encourages parents to speak to their children often, no matter how young they are. She said, ”Please remember that [the] language learning process occurs very early in life, and useful language knowledge is laid down in the very early months of life as our study suggests.”
”Try to talk to your babies as much as possible because they are absorbing and digesting what you are saying.”
Language learning starts very early in life; a baby can already recognize the sound of their mother’s voice before they even leave the womb. The early acquisition of language skills has been known for quite some time. The New York Times explains that even at 6 months old, babies have already begun to learn the sounds that make up their language, and all of its distinctive acoustic properties — a finding that was uncovered in 1992.
More recent research has shown that in addition to beginning to recognize language sounds, babies that are 6 months old are also beginning to understand word associations. They may not be speaking yet, but underneath the surface, they are learning quite a bit. Research shows that even at such a young age, they can even grasp the meaning of words.
Babies have a unique gift for learning new things, and it seems that gift can extend even into adulthood — at least when it comes to language. Who knows what research will uncover next?