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Experts recommend that parents communicate with infants using a melodic tone in order to facilitate language acquisition.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered that babies acquire language skills through exposure to rhythmic patterns, such as those found in nursery rhymes and music.
It was also found that infants do not start comprehending phonetic details, such as the smallest units of speech, until they reach approximately seven months of age.
According to the study published in Nature Communications, the results contradict the belief that phonetic information, often presented through the alphabet, is crucial for learning a language.
According to them, this could indicate that dyslexia and developmental language disorder are linked to the ability to perceive rhythm, rather than difficulties with understanding phonetic information.
Professor Usha Goswami, a neuroscientist from the University of Cambridge, has found through her study that it takes about seven months for infants to reliably process individual speech sounds, even though they are able to recognize familiar words such as ‘bottle’ by this time.
After that, single spoken sounds are gradually incorporated at a sluggish pace – not enough to create the foundation of a language.
We think that the foundation of a strong language system is the hidden binding provided by speech rhythm information.
It is beneficial for parents to communicate and sing to their infants frequently, using a special type of speech called infant-directed speech or nursery rhymes. This can positively impact their language development in the long run.
Previously, it was believed that babies acquire small sound units and combine them to form words.
The researchers monitored the brain activity of 50 infants at three different ages (four, seven, and eleven months) while they watched a video of a primary school teacher singing 18 nursery rhymes, in order to determine if this was true.
The team utilized specialized algorithms to decipher how the babies were storing this information in their brains.
Researchers discovered that the process of phonetic encoding in infants develops slowly during their first year of life. This development starts with sounds made by the upper front teeth, like “d” for “daddy,” and sounds produced by airflow through the nose, like “m” for “mummy.”
According to Professor Goswami, infants are capable of utilizing rhythmic cues as a framework to incorporate phonetic details.
One possible lesson for them could be the recognition that English words usually follow a strong-weak rhythm pattern, such as in ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy’, where the emphasis is on the first syllable.
This rhythm pattern can assist in determining word boundaries while listening to spoken language.
She stated that rhythm is a fundamental feature present in all languages, in which infants are regularly exposed to a strong beat structure with a strong syllable occurring twice per second.
According to Professor Goswami, humans are naturally inclined to emphasize this when communicating with infants.
This research is part of the BabyRhythm project, headed by Professor Goswami, which aims to explore the connection between language and dyslexia as well as developmental language disorder.
According to her, there has been a significant effort to interpret these issues as phonetic difficulties in the past, but the proof doesn’t align. It’s possible that variations in children’s language acquisition abilities stem from their sense of rhythm.