Can Your Baby Understand Speech Whilst Still in the Womb?

baby  listeningImproving your baby’s understanding of speech and language can help to improve their wellness in a big way, and now a French study has shown that, for those eager beavers out there, you can get started sooner than you think as babies can decipher speech before they’re even born.

Based on detailed brain scans of 12 infants born prematurely, the researchers claim that your baby could be able to decipher speech as early as three months before birth. The results, which were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed that, at just 28 weeks’ gestation, babies appeared to discriminate between different syllables like “ga” and “ba”, as well as male and female voices.

The team of scientists commented that it was unlikely that anything affecting the wellbeing of the infants after birth would have altered their results. For years, family wellness experts have been saying that babies develop language skills while still in the womb in response to their parents’ voices, and this research lends further validity to that idea. Your baby’s ears and auditory part of the brain are formed by around 23 weeks’ gestation, which allows them to hear noises in the womb.

Yet whether you are born with an innate ability to process speech, or this is something you acquire through learning after birth, is still up for debate. The authors of this study concluded that whilst environmental factors are undoubtedly important, their findings lead them to believe linguistic processes are innate. According to Dr Fabrice Wallois and colleagues, ‘Our results demonstrate that the human brain, at the very onset of the establishment of a cortical circuit for auditory perception, already discriminates subtle differences in speech syllables.’

However, they added that the result of their study ‘does not challenge the fact that experience is also crucial for their fine tuning and for learning the specific properties of the native language’. The researchers said they doubt that the noises and sounds the newborns encountered in their new environment outside of the womb, in the first few days following birth, triggered rapid development, but this is a possibility. Professor Sophie Scott, an expert in speech perception at University College London, said the findings supported and added to current knowledge.

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