It's not just goo goo ga ga: Babies learn to talk by taking up lip reading at six months
A baby's babbling changes into proper syllables after they start lip reading
Babies don't learn to talk just from hearing your voice. New research suggests they're lip-readers too.
It happens around the age of six months when a baby begins shifting from the intent eye gaze of early infancy to studying mouths when people talk to them.
Their babbling then gradually changes from gibberish into syllables and eventually into those precious first words.
Test conditions: A baby watches an English speaker on a monitor while wearing a headband that allows scientists to track where he is looking
'The baby in order to imitate you has to
figure out how to shape their lips to make that particular sound
they're hearing,' said study leader David Lewkowicz of
Florida Atlantic University.
'It's an incredibly complex process.'
It only takes youngsters a few months to absorb the movements that match basic sounds. /01/17/article-2087888-0F80699E00000578-400_468x313.jpg” width=”468″ height=”313″ alt=”It only takes youngsters a few months to absorb the mouth movements that match basic sounds” class=”blkBorder” />
High-fliers: It only takes youngsters a few months to absorb the mouth movements that match basic sounds
It also begs the question of whether babies who turn out to have developmental disorders, including autism, learn to speak the same way, or if they show differences that just might provide an early warning sign.
Unraveling how babies learn to speak isn't merely a curiosity.
Neuroscientists want to know how to encourage that process, especially if it doesn't seem to be happening on time. Plus, it helps them understand how the brain wires itself early in life.
Those coos of early infancy start changing around age 6 months, growing into the syllables of the baby's native language until the first word emerges, usually just before the age of one.
Scientists have long known that babies also look to speakers' faces for important social cues about what they're hearing. Just like adults, they're drawn to the eyes, which convey important nonverbal messages like the emotion connected to words and where to direct attention.
Dr Lewkowicz went a step further, wondering whether babies look to the lips for cues as well, sort of like how adults lip-read to decipher what someone's saying at a noisy party.
So he and doctoral student Amy Hansen-Tift tested nearly 180 babies, at ages 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 months.
They showed videos of a woman speaking in English or Spanish to babies of English speakers. A gadget mounted on a soft headband tracked where each baby was focusing his or her gaze and for how long.
They found a dramatic shift in attention: When the speaker used English, the 4-month-olds gazed mostly into her eyes. The 6-month-olds spent equal amounts of time looking at the eyes and the mouth. The 8- and 10-month-olds studied mostly the mouth.
At 12 months, attention started shifting back toward the speaker's eyes.
Dr Lewkowicz said six months is the time babies' brains gain the ability to control their attention rather than automatically look toward noise.
But what happened when these babies accustomed to English heard Spanish The 12-month-olds studied the mouth longer, just like younger babies. They needed the extra information to decipher the unfamiliar sounds.
That fits with research into bilingualism that shows babies' brains fine-tune themselves to start distinguishing the sounds of their native language over other languages in the first year of life. That's one reason it's easier for babies to become bilingual than older children or adults.
But the continued lip-reading shows the one-year-olds clearly still 'are primed for learning,' Professor McMurray said.