Psychology: Young babies can recognise words

An American study which shows babies as young as eight months can hear and remember words was yesterday backed by a leading British scientist.

Dr Faraneh Vargha-Khadem, a neuro-psychologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, said it was perfectly feasible for babies of such a young age to recognise and remember words. In fact during the first year of life, a baby has such sensitive hearing it can discriminate subtle differences in sounds which are inaudible to adults, she said. While these sounds may not be understood, babies can differentiate between words and remember them.

In the study published yesterday in the journal Science, Peter Jusczyk of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said his research shows that babies can learn the rhythm and sound of words while in the cradle and months later may utter those words in a "vocabulary spurt". Mr Jusczyk had a word of caution for parents: "Be careful what you say. Little ears are listening."

Dr Vargha-Khadem said: "This research ties in very well with findings that have been coming out over the last 10 years suggesting there is much more in the processing and registration of linguistic information in the infant and young child than was previously supposed." Reading to infants, said Mr Jusczyk, can start the process of learning language, even if the babies do not seem to understand. "As you are sitting there reading, the child is learning something about sound patterns of words," he said. "That is important because they learn how words are formed and it helps them to segment sound patterns out of speech."

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