Infants Raised in Bilingual Environments Can Distinguish Unfamiliar Languages
Infants raised in households where Spanish and Catalan are spoken can discriminate between English and French just by watching people speak, even though they have never been exposed to these new languages before, according to University of British Columbia psychologist Janet Werker.
Presented today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, Werker’s latest findings provide further evidence that exposure to two native languages contributes to the development of perceptual sensitivity that extends beyond their mother tongues.
Werker has previously shown that bilingual infants can discern different native languages at four, six and eight months after birth. While monolingual babies have the ability to discern two languages at four and six months, they can no longer do so at eight months.
In Werker’s latest study with Prof. Núria Sebastián-Gallés from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, infants of four and six months were shown silent videos of talking faces speaking English and French. They found that babies growing up bilingual with Spanish and Catalan – a Romance language spoken in Andorra and Catalonia – were able to distinguish between English and French simply through facial cues, even though they had never before seen speakers of either language.
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