How early are babies able to learn their native language? According to a new study from South Korea, as early as the first few months of life.
The study takes an interesting look at the impression that language makes on newborns and whether babies actually retain any birth language ability even if they are adopted and grow up in a different country.
For this study, adults that were adopted from South Korea as babies by Dutch-speaking families were asked to pronounce Korean consonants after a short training course.
Researchers found that the now Dutch-speaking adults exceeded expectations at Korean pronunciation when retrained after losing their birth language.
The two languages have little in common. Korean consonants are unlike those spoken in Dutch.
The participants were compared with a group of adults who had not been exposed to the Korean language as children and then rated by native Korean speakers.
Both groups performed to the same level before training, but after training the international adoptees exceeded expectations.
There was no difference between children who were adopted under six months of age - before they could speak - and those who were adopted after 17 months, when they had learned to talk.
Because of the young ages of the adopted children, researchers suggested the language knowledge retained is more abstract in nature, rather than dependent on experience.
Dr Jiyoun Choi of Hanyang University in Seoul led the research.
The study is the first to show that early experiences of adopted children in their birth language, continues to give them an advantage decades later, even if they think it is forgotten, she said.
Other studies suggest that babies may learn their natural language as early as in the womb. Typically, babies begin uttering vowel sounds at about 6 weeks, but won’t be able to make words - associated with meanings - until around 12 to 16 months of age. How early a child learns to speak is dependent on factors such as, how much parents, siblings or relatives interact and talk to them, along with good hearing and health.
''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,'' Choi said.
''Try to talk to your babies as much as possible because they are absorbing and digesting what you are saying.''
Talking to and positive interaction with your baby not only helps him or her learn language quicker, but also builds a foundation for feeling safe and valued as a unique and important member of the family.
Story source: Helen Briggs, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38653906