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Learning ea Speak
Do You Hear What I Hear’?
The first words spoken represent the interplay of speech and
language. The infants skill as a linguist long predates the K _ _
emergence of these first communicative utterances. Fiona’s _ ‘ 1'  
remark that learning to speak somehow requires the baby ’ L ‘
to “listen” is accurate. Because hearing is the first of the ‘l ‘I
senses to emerge during fetal development, the listening be- I
gins about halfway through gestation (Lecanuet and Schaal,
1996). Somewhere around 30 weeks, the fetus begins react- 1
ing to voices and sounds in the environment (Shahidulla and // ‘ u
Hepper, 1994). The ability to discriminate speech sounds
also begins in utero, with neonates preferring sounds and ' ' -
voices to which they were exposed before birth (DeCasper
and Fifer, 1980). While the sounds in the outside world are
filtered through the noise of the womb, unlike the depic-
tion in Figure 1, fetuses are still able to learn to discrimi-
nate vowel sounds. I.n one study, mothers regularly played
audio samples that included many repetitions of “tahtahtah” 518"’? 1- Li5””i”g "7 5P“‘h be?“ 10"! befme him“ Ph‘””
and “tahtohtah,” starting at 28-weeks gestation. Shortly a.f- from lsmflkphomwm‘
ter birth, these infants were able to discriminate these two
samples, whereas infants who did not hear the sa.rnples in rate, larger mouth movements (Green et al., 2010), greater
utero could not (Partanen et al., 2013). I.n the first months pitch variability, and clear articulation (Kuhl et al., 1997). It
of life, babies are equally skilled at discriminating sounds facilitates language learning in the baby because it increases
and patterns from all languages, but later, between 6 and the baby’s attention to the speech of the caregiver in a posi-
12 months of age, babies become specialists in the sounds tive emotional context, as depicted in Figure 2, enhancing
of their own language, likely due to reorganization of how the social give-and-take that will later become critical for lan-
they store and eventually imitate the sounds they hear (e.g., guage production by the child (Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2014).
Best and McRoberts, 2003). This early specialization is par- I.n addition, this speaking style calls attention to the contrasts
ticularly important, associated with greater spoken language and distinctions of the native language, such as vowel sounds,
abilities at two years (Kuhl et al., 2005). stress patterns, and the beginnings and endings of words (Go-
When the baby arrives in the world, the full sensory experi- lfnkofl El a'l“_ 2015_)' The faCe_t°_face Tamra of early ‘metac-
. . tions, as depicted in Figure 2, plays an important role as well.
ence of language, speech, and communication extends and _ _ _ _
. . . . . . Perhaps most important, use of infant-directed speech is a
enhances the listening the baby did in utero. The fa.miliar- _ _ _ _ _ _
. . critical element of parental responsiveness, a positive predic-
ity of voices and the rhythms and tones of the language _ _ _
. . . tor of later vocabulary size and on-time achievement of lan-
get paired with eye contact, touch, and the nurturing love H St T _ L M d 2014)
provided by the primary caregivers. In addition, the baby guagem 2 one“ anus‘ e on a‘ '
is ready to play, in a sense, mimicking the actions of adults. Taking Dnntrnl
As young as a few hours old, babies are able to imitate the _ _ _
_ _ _ _ Fiona had every advantage of early language learning, in-
actions of adults, including tongue protrusion, mouth open- _ _ _
. . . _ cluding a mother who was savvy with responsiveness and
ing, and lip rounding (Meltzoff and Moore, 1977). This early _ _ . .
. . . . . _ infant-directed speech. Despite this, her first true word was
skill foreshadows what will be in the later Joint attention of . . .
. . . not uttered until she was a year and a half old. I.ndividual
play and the dialogue of verbal communication. _ .
paths are quite common in the early stages of speech devel-
This work of listening to and learning the language around opment because different skills develop at different rates.
them is made easier for babies because of the exaggerated When the development of one element limits progress in
speech used by caregivers to address infants. Infant-directed the achievement of a skill, it is a constraint. In development,
speech is used by caregivers in many of the world’s cultures constraints are presumably created by less developed pro-
(Kuhl fit 31‘, 1997) and i“C1“d95 5imP1ifi9d V0C8b“1ary, SIOWEI cesses or systems that do not mature at the same rate as other
4|: 1 AI:uuII:l:l Tbday 1 hiizois

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