Infants and Speech

Read about being a mother of 12 as our resident 'Supermom' shares her wise parenting advice.

My tenth of 12 children had the most interesting first word (or shall I say first 2 words?) of all my kids: light bulb. At first, my husband and I looked at each other and said, "Light bulb?"

Was he really saying what we thought he was saying?

We scratched our heads. Was he really saying what we thought he was saying? But, he said it again. And again. And he pointed to light fixtures as he said those words. We asked him, "Light bulb?"

And he pointed upward and restated in a voice as firm as the voice of a nine month old can be, "Light bulb."

Imagining early acceptance at Harvard

Of course, we were already imagining early acceptance at Harvard. But once we got over the shock and thought about the mechanics behind the words, we realized that it was only natural that his first words would involve something that interested him. We no longer think about light, or the fact that we can get it by flicking a switch, but to an infant, this is fascinating stuff.

Scientists are discovering the connection between what interests your baby and his language skills. Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia and the Universities of Delaware in Newark and Evansville in Indiana conducted two studies on the subject. In these studies, babies were taught words for objects considered interesting or boring. The interesting objects were noise making, had moving parts, and painted with bright colors. These items captured the infants' attention at once. The boring objects were colored in drab tones.

Researchers found that it didn't matter what the person holding the boring object was saying or doing, the 10 month old babies were only interested in the interesting objects. The pairing of visual and verbal cues that older babies need for learning language were unimportant for this younger age group. They would gaze at the interesting object and assign a word label to the item at hand.

Until this study was performed, people weren't really sure that babies were paying attention to conversations within their earshot. Lots of us assumed it was okay for us to talk about very adult subjects around our infants, thinking that they are somehow too young to listen or understand. Now we know that's not true. The upshot? Don't talk about your neighbor's new bosoms while your baby is chomping on a French fry at the local McDonald's. Your baby might decide that the name for a French fry is boob implant.

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