Babies learn to speak through rhythm – not sounds

We know that children learn to speak through listening to those around them, but exactly how this occurs has previously been the subject of debate. 

It was once believed that children learned the individual sounds or ‘phonetic information’ in language and used them to build words – but new research suggests that it is the rhythm that helps very young children learn and acquire language more effectively. 

Babies in their first few months of life cannot accurately process phonetic information until seven months of age, though they are clearly absorbing and showing signs of learning the foundations of language much earlier. ‘Rhythmic information’, how we stress syllables and changes in tone, is a far more consistent property of languages spoken across the world than individual sounds, and lays the foundation for language acquisition from birth. 

By speaking to children, and babies in particular, using sing-song speech like in nursery rhymes, or even simply singing to them, you are emphasising the boundaries between words and syllables and teaching them the natural rhythm of the language they are learning. This even works before they can communicate with you using their own words!

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