Language development in newborns

Speech and language lessons start in the uterus, where your unborn baby hears and responds to familiar voices. Indeed, soon after birth, your baby prefers and responds more to the mother's voice than to any other. Also, your newborn can recognize whether sounds are part of his or her native language.

Your newborn continues to learn language by listening to the basic and distinct sounds (phonemes), such as the "tr" and "cl" sounds in the English language. Your baby remembers sounds and continually learns more nuances of language, which are later expressed when he or she begins to talk.

Babies learn language skills through frequent interaction, such as reading and being talked to. Newborns respond to "baby talk," which is a higher-pitched, slower speech with emphasis placed on alternating words. Most parents instinctively speak this way to their newborn, gradually incorporating normal speech patterns and pitch.

Although reading to a child who is such a young age may not appear to benefit your baby, it provides comforting contact. Establishing a reading routine early also helps make future reading comfortable and fun.

Last Updated: March 19, 2009

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics & Kimberly Dow, MD, FRCPC - Neonatology

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