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Bilingual babies cue in to languages

Two native tongues better than one for infant perception

6:19pm, February 18, 2011

WASHINGTON — Babies living in bilingual homes get a perceptual boost by 8 months of age that may set the stage for more resilient thinking later in life, scientists reported February 18 at the American Association of the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

Infants raised bilingual from birth can distinguish not only between their two native tongues but between two languages they’ve never been exposed to, just by watching adults speak without hearing what they say, said psychologist Janet Werker of the University of British Columbia.

Babies being raised to speak one language lack these visual discrimination skills, Werker and her colleagues have found.

Given regular exposure to two languages, infants develop a general ability to track closely what they hear and see in decoding languages, Werker proposed. In the visual realm, such information may include lip movements, the rhythm of the jaw opening and closing, and the full ensem

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