Babies understand what words mean before they can even talk, study says

If you believe babies only understand “goo goo” and “gah gah,” think again. Infants actually know what words mean before they begin talking, a new report says.

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Researchers from Duke University recently conducted a study, published in the Proceedings of the National Sciences, to explore how early infants comprehend speech and sound. 

To do so, they examined 51 babies, who were six months old, using eye-tracking software. While sitting on a parent’s lap, each baby was shown pairs of images that were related, like a car and stroller, or unrelated, like a car and carton of milk. The parent was then prompted to name one of the items as researchers followed the baby’s gaze. 

After analyzing the results, they found that babies spent more time looking at the image that was named, especially when the items were unrelated. However, when the images were related, they spent equal time looking at them both.  

“Even though there aren’t many overt signals of language knowledge in babies, language is definitely developing furiously under the surface,” said lead researcher Elika Bergelson in a statement. “Even in the very early stages of comprehension, babies seem to know something about how words relate to each other.”

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Researchers believe their findings can potentially help identify kids who may be at risk for language delays, but first they hope to conduct more investigations. That way they can better inform caregivers about how they should be speaking to their infants.

“My take-home to parents always is, the more you can talk to your kid, the better,” Bergelson said. “Because they are listening and learning from what you say, even if it doesn’t appear to be so.”

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