Read My Lips, Baby
Listening may not be the only way your baby is learning to talk—he’s watching you too!
Just how do babies learn how to talk? Conventional wisdom has had it for years that listening to sounds, words, and conversations are what trigger babies to go from babbling to forming distinct consonants, and finally, saying short words. But now researchers from Florida Atlantic University have discovered that there may be an important visual component to babies’ early language acquisition in the form of lip-reading.
How do they do it? Right around the 6-month mark, a time when many babies begin to make their first recognizable sounds (in the form of babbling), Florida researchers found that infants shifted their attention from gazing into the eyes of the person speaking to them to studying their mouths. After observing more than 180 babies, researchers found that increased focus on mouths lasted only until they babies began speaking in distinct consonants and words themselves.
“The baby in order to imitate you has to figure out how to shape their lips to make that particular sound they’re hearing,” explains developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz of FAU, who led the study. “It’s an incredibly complex process.”
As if you needed more evidence that quality face time with your little one is important for speech development, why not do a little experiment of your own and make sure your baby can see you as well as hear you the next time you read a story or point to something interesting while out on a walk?
Researchers also say the study may be helpful for early identification of speech problems and even autism. It was also noted that babies continued to “lip-read” if they were hearing a foreign language, offering further insight into how bilingual babies master two languages at once.
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