Thursday, January 19th, 2012
My fellow Parents.com blogger Holly Lebowitz Rossi published a really important post on a new study showing how babies read lips as part of the language learning process. I urge you to read Holly’s blog post to learn the details of the study. Here I want to expand a little on the findings and the very important implications for parents.
What does this study teach us? The study used a clever design and methodology to reveal developmental patterning in the way babies orient to an adult’s face when they hear speech. Throughout the first year of life, differential attention is first given to an adult’s eyes (4 months), then eyes and mouth (6 to 8 months), then mouth (8 to 10 months), and then eyes (12 months). What’s going on here? Well, think of it this way. Young babies orient first to the eyes as the logical point of social contact; then they start to gain the ability to selectively attend to the mouth, which is cool since they’ve figured out that’s where the sounds are coming from; then they study the mouth really hard to make sense of the sounds and observe how they are produced; and finally as the sounds are making sense they refocus more on the eyes to, if you will, take in the whole social experience of language and connect with the speaker. (Keep in mind this is just my take on what’s happening – I haven’t done research with infants in a very long time!). The nice twist to the study was to observe 12-month-old infants as they looked at an adult speaking a foreign language: they focused on the mouth, just a like a 6-month old would. Why? Because they were trying to make sense of the new sounds they were hearing.
What are the implications for parents? These findings demonstrate how important the face is to a baby when they are hearing words – and how many different ways they use the face to learn a language and, more broadly, the pleasure of communication. Think about all the developmental stages that happen in just the first 12 months of life. And all of it centers on the face. So the biggest take-home message here is that babies need uninterrupted face-to-face interaction to achieve all this. Think about how pleasantly focused a baby is when you are talking, smiling, and laughing. Think about how much babies love playing games like peek-a-boo and how the game morphs with age (click here for a nice description). This is why organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that babies don’t spend too much time focusing on a TV/DVD/Smart Phone – and spend lots of time focusing on your face. It’s much more interesting (and informative) to them.Add a Comment