It’s never too early to start talking to your newborn. They’re always learning… perhaps even before they’re born. In fact, researchers at the University of Kansas recently discovered that fetuses could actually distinguish between different languages in the womb.
“Research suggests that human language development may start really early — a few days after birth,” said Utako Minai, study leader and associate professor of linguistics, in a press release. “Babies a few days old have been shown to be sensitive to the rhythmic differences between languages. Previous studies have demonstrated this by measuring changes in babies’ behavior; for example, by measuring whether babies change the rate of sucking on a pacifier when the speech changes from one language to a different language with different rhythmic properties.”
To determine whether or not language development was happening even before being born, Minai and her team used non-invasive, brain-imaging technology to measure the heart beats of 24 eight-month-old American fetuses while English and Japanese recordings were played. All of their heartbeats changed when the languages switched, suggesting that they could recognize rhythm changes and tell the difference between English and Japanese.
“Fetuses can hear things, including speech, in the womb,” she said. “It’s muffled, like the adults talking in a ‘Peanuts‘ cartoon, but the rhythm of the language should be preserved and available for the fetus to hear, even though the speech is muffled.”
So, your stirring rendition of Ed Sheeran‘s Shape of You may sound like a series of “womp womps” to your fetus, but your words could actually be working its teensy brain. Yet another reason to be conscious of what you say in front of your kid — even if it’s still in the womb.