The New York Times had an article about a recent research study which strengthens the belief that language skills start to be acquired already when a child is just a fetus in his mother’s womb.
Dutch speaking adults were researched in this study. Some of them were born in Korea and adopted by Dutch speaking families but had no knowledge of the Korean language in reading, writing or comprehension. Another group of people were Dutch speakers born to Dutch speakers.
The researchers found that the Korean born Dutch speakers who were adopted as babies were able to learn Korean reading skills much more quickly than those born of Dutch speakers. The findings show that the language a fetus or a newborn hear will affect his language acquisition abilities later on in life enabling him to learn the language he was exposed to as a fetus or newborn more quickly.
This study adds to the body of research that says a fetus can hear inside the womb from the 24th week of pregnancy. At this time neural development takes place between the auditory nerves and the region in the brain responsible for processing and decoding the sounds. The fetus can hear him mother’s heartbeat and also her voice.
Dr. Anne Kettler from the Brain Research Institute in the University of West Sidney in Australia told Ynet: “Fetuses can identify the voices they hear from inside the womb from the last trimester of pregnancy. They especially identify their mother’s voice and prefer it over all other voices. We always assumed that fetuses under 6 months have no abstract knowledge of language but this current study shows that even very early on in fetal development the fetus can identify sound patterns and use them later on in life to learn how to produce those sounds that weren’t part of the language he ended up speaking in his childhood.”
Dr. Kettler summarizes the study saying: “You can always learn a new language but there’s no substitute for the learning that takes place as a fetus before birth. Research about this learning is exciting and it teaches us a lot about the cognitive processes of understanding language and brain development.” She concludes: “Talk to your baby!”