Careful what you say around the children – babies can ‘hear’ words at just 9 months old

Parents should be worried about what they say in front of children.Youngsters can recognize speech at nine months old, claim scientists. That is far earlier than previously believed.

Whether or not Dads need to worry if they inadvertently turn the air blue remains to be seen.
Professor Athena Vouloumanos, of New York University, said: ‘Parrot speech is unlike human speech, so the results show infants have the ability to detect different types of speech, even if they need visual cues to assist in this process.
‘Our results show that infant speech perception is resilient and flexible. This means that our recognition of speech is more refined at an earlier age than we’d thought.’

Research showed that kids were able to distinguish between human speech and an imitation – in this case a talking parrot – earlier than previously believed.

Scientists know adults’ speech perception is fine-tuned as they can detect speech among a range of ambiguous sounds, but the capability of kids to do the same was not clear.

Tests were conducted on children aged nine months old, with responses to human and parrot speech and non-speech sounds measured to find out how early in life we develop the ability to recognize speech.

Human and parrot words included ‘truck’, ‘treat’, ‘dinner’ and ‘two’, while non-speech sounds were whistles and a clearing of the throat for the person and squawks and chirps for Alex, the African Gray parrot.
As tots cannot verbally communicate their responses, the researchers used a common method to measure the process – seeing if they gaze longer at what they find interesting or unusual.

Looking longer at a visual paired with sound could be interpreted as a reflection of recognition, so the study paired sounds with visuals, including a checkerboard-like image, adult female faces and a cup.

Results showed children listened longer to human speech, compared with human non-speech sounds, regardless of the visual props.
When paired with human face visuals or human artefacts like cups, the infants listened to parrot speech longer than they did non-speech, as their preference for parrot speech was similar to their preference for human speech sounds.

However, this did not occur in the presence of other visual props, so the Developmental Psychology study says children were able to distinguish animal speech from non-speech, but only in some contexts.



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