Hugo Lagercrantz, a professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and Patricia Kuhl, and co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, reported the first evidence that unborn children can tell the difference between languages spoken by their mother at the University of Washington website on January 2, 2012. The research will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Acta Paediatrica.
The scientists found that unborn infants can hear and differentiate the sounds their mothers make 10 weeks before birth. The newborns demonstrate the language skills they learned after birth. Vowel sounds were found to be the most recognizable sounds due to the loudness of vowel sounds versus consonants in any language.
Newborns were found to respond to foreign languages to a higher degree than they did to their native languages. Response to language was determined by measuring the duration of sucking on a pacifier when the newborn heard a specific set of words spoken by their mother in one or two languages.
The take away message is that learning begins before birth and that mothers who speak more than one language should talk to their unborn children in both languages to give the child a learning advantage even before they are born.
The research was reviewed at the Eureka Alert website the date of publication.