January 3, 2013: A recent study led by Christine Moon, a professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University and published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, found that infants only hours old show a distinct interest in vowels of a language that were not their mother's tongue.
Moon said to Science Daily, "We have known for over 30 years that we begin learning prenatally about voices by listening to the sound of our mother talking," Moon said. "This is the first study that shows we learn about the particular speech sounds of our mother's language before we are born."
According to Science Daily, researchers tested two groups: one, 40 infants (7-75 hours old) born in Tacoma, Washington; the other, 40 infants born in Stockholm, Sweden.
Each newborn was given a pacifier to suck on; the pacifier was connected to a computer. Researchers measured the newborns' responses to the sounds of vowels in English and Swedish by how long the infants continued to suck. The newborns could control how many times they heard the vowels by sucking continuously on the pacifier: they would hear the same vowel until they paused from sucking. Once they started sucking again, they would hear a different vowel. The amount of time they sucked on their pacifiers was used to demonstrate what vowels attracted their attention.
According to the journal Acta Paediatrica, the results showed that in each group, the infants responded to the unfamiliar nonnative language with higher average sucks. They responded more (by sucking more) to unfamiliar vowels then they did when they heard familiar vowels. For example, the newborns in Sweden sucked more and paused less when they were listening to English vowels.
Written by: Taylor McCulloch