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According to a recent study, using “sing-song” speech, like nursery rhymes, is the most successful way to teach babies to talk. Traditionally, linguists have emphasized phonetics as the foundation of language learning, with the belief that babies combine these smallest sound elements to form words.

Nursery rhymes crucial in language development in babies

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin found that babies start processing phonetic information at around seven months old. However, they still face challenges with it at around 11 months, which coincides with the typical onset of their first words.

University of Cambridge researchers indicates that individual speech sounds aren’t reliably processed until around seven months old, despite infants recognizing familiar words like ‘bottle.’ Professor Usha Goswami, a neuroscientist, suggests that speech rhythm information is crucial for developing a functional language system in infants.

Infants utilize rhythmic cues as a framework to incorporate phonetic details. They discern the strong-weak rhythm pattern in English words, such as ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy,’ with emphasis on the first syllable. This rhythmic awareness aids infants in distinguishing word boundaries and understanding natural speech patterns.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin studied brain activity in 50 infants aged 4, 7, and 11 months, observing responses to a nursery rhyme video. Utilizing a specialized algorithm, they analyzed brainwaves to understand how phonetic information processing evolves in response to continuous speech. Professor Giovanni Di Liberto highlights this as groundbreaking evidence of such changes over time.

Dyslexia and developmental language disorders not due to phonetic issues

This study, part of the BabyRhythm project led by Prof. Goswami, investigated language learning and its links to dyslexia. Unlike previous studies using nonsensical syllables, it challenges the prevailing notion that phonetic issues solely explain dyslexia and developmental language disorders, citing insufficient evidence to support this theory.

Infants as young as two months process rhythmic speech information, predicting later language outcomes, according to the BabyRhythm project. Professor Goswami advises parents to engage in talk, singing, or nursery rhymes with their babies, emphasizing the positive impact on language development. The research received funding from the European Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland.