If you thought you only had to start watching what you say in front of your kids once they're around 1 or 2-years-old, think again. A new study shows that babies begin picking up language while they are still in the womb, maybe even as early 30 weeks' gestation, which is generally around the time that the fetus develops hearing.

Scientists conducted research on 80 infants — 40 from the United States and 40 from Sweden — to determine how well the babies could recognize their native languages. To determine their comprehension, the babies were all given pacifiers and played a mix of English and Swedish vowel sounds. Researchers then monitored the way they sucked while the various sounds were playing and discovered that American babies were not as fixated on their pacifiers when English vowel sounds were playing as they were when the swedish vowel sounds were playing, while with Swedish babies, the situation was reversed. Their level of focus depending on the language suggests that the babies stopped to listen to the sounds that they were more familiar with.


Based on previous knowledge of child development, scientists and researchers doubt that the babies' familiarity with their native tongues had been developed since birth. Says the study's lead author and professor of psychology Christine Moon, "Even in late gestation, babies are doing what they'll be doing throughout infancy and childhood — learning about language."

If you currently have a fetus growing inside you, now might be your chance to give your baby a linguistic edge. Want it to be très sophistiqué? Start speaking in French. Want it to come Charleston-ing out of your womb like a baby out of the Jazz Age? Start beatin' ya' gums! This ain't no idle chitta-chattah — we're gonna have that kid speakin' like it's somethin' outta Gatsby tout suite!


Babies Seem to Pick Up Language in Utero [NYT]

Image via Mathom/Shutterstock.