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Bilingual Babies Practice Lip-Reading Long Before Monolingual Counterparts

Babies raised in bilingual households spend significantly more time watching the mouth of the person speaking to them than their monolingual counterparts, according to a new study.

David Lewkowicz, a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northeastern University, and colleagues in Barcelona, Spain, observed bilin­gual and monolingual infants as they watched a video of a woman speaking in Spanish or Catalan. The infants were all learning one or both languages.

Lewkowicz says the idea for the study arose from previous research in which he and his colleagues had found that 4-month-old babies, despite their fascination with things that move, don’t look at a person’s mouth when they speak, but rather look only at the eyes. When babies start babbling at 8 to 10 months, they also start to shift their attention back and forth between the eyes and the mouth.

He and his colleagues wondered if bilingual babies do this any differently — and it turns out they do: bilin­gual babies focus their atten­tion on the mouth at an ear­lier age and for a longer period of time than mono­lin­gual infants. “Babies learning two different languages take advantage even more of the information that is located in the lips,” Lewkowicz says.

This Story is Based on a Radio Interview.  Listen to the Full Interview

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