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Language learning may begin before birth

Newborn babies can tell native from foreign vowel sounds

8:03pm, January 7, 2013

Babies may start to learn their mother tongues even before seeing their mothers’ faces. Newborns react differently to native and foreign vowel sounds, suggesting that language learning begins in the womb, researchers say.

Infants tested seven to 75 hours after birth treated spoken variants of a vowel sound in their home language as similar, evidence that newborns regard these sounds as members of a common category, say psychologist Christine Moon of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., and her colleagues. Newborns deemed different versions of a foreign vowel sound to be dissimilar and unfamiliar, the scientists report in an upcoming Acta

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