Babies are already learning about language and sounds at the age of eight months and social interaction and exaggerated phrases can help advance their language skills, according to new research.
A baby's brain is already striving to understand the differences in the sounds they're hearing and between the ages of seven months and 11 months infants' brains are being stimulated to prepare for motor movements needed for speech.
The study by researchers at the University of Washington was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Most babies babble by 7 months, but don't utter their first words until after their first birthdays," said lead author Patricia Kohl, who is the co-director of the UW's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, in a release on the study.
"Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds' brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words."
The research team believes motor planning practice can help in the transition needed for infants to hone in on their native language. The team also believes the findings support the contention that the more babies are talked to and the more socialization they get can help speech development.
"Hearing us talk exercises the action areas of infants' brains, going beyond what we thought happens when we talk to them," Kuhl said. "Infants' brains are preparing them to act on the world by practicing how to speak before they actually say a word."
The study put babies in a brain scanner that measured brain activation through a noninvasive technique called magnetoencephalography. The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences was the first ever to use the technology to study babies while they engaged in a task. You can see the equipment in use at this YouTube video.
During the research the 57 nearly one-year-olds listened to native and foreign language syllables in both English and Spanish, including 'da,' and brain responses were recorded.
According to researchers, brain activation is different as infants get older. By their first birthday infant brains increase motor activation.
And it seems that baby talk in exaggerated fashion does help, even if everyone around you is irritated by you cooing loudly in what researchers called 'parentese speech' such as "Hiiiii! How are youuuuu?" It apparently spurs infants to repeat such utterances.
"Parentese is very exaggerated, and when infants hear it, their brains may find it easier to model the motor movements necessary to speak," Kuhl said.