Does language acquisition in newborns begin before birth?

Does language acquisition in newborns begin before birth?

#language #acquisition #newborns #birth

Would having babies hear different languages ​​during pregnancy promote the acquisition of language skills before birth?

This is what a research team from the LION laboratory is trying to determine, led by Professor Anne Gallagher, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal and a researcher in neuropsychology at CHU Sainte-Justine.

The starting hypothesis is based on the premise that during pregnancy –and more specifically in the last trimester– the language networks of the fetus are modulated according to the sounds and voices to which it is exposed. Therefore, this could allow you to more easily process and recognize what is familiar to you, including your mother tongue.

“We believe that, from the first hours of life, the baby’s brain’s response to hearing voices will be influenced by the languages ​​it will have heard during gestation,” says clinical neuropsychology doctoral student Laura Caron-Desrochers, who set this ambitious project with the help of other members of Professor Gallagher’s team.

Being told a story in your mother’s womb… in three languages!

Charles Lepage

Charles Lepage

Credit: Photo Courtesy

To verify this hypothesis, the research team recruited 72 pregnant women followed at CHU Sainte-Justine who were separated into three groups.

In the first two, the mothers-to-be had to make the fetuses listen to the same story of the character Martine in two languages ​​- French and German or French and Hebrew – daily, through headphones placed on the abdomen, all pregnancy week. The women who made up the third group or control group were not subjected to any protocol.

“German and Hebrew were chosen because of their rhythmic properties that are very different from French and these are two languages ​​that also differ significantly from each other on a phonological level, explain neuropsychology doctoral student Charles Lepage and Phetsamone project manager. Vannasing. . This allows us to assess all aspects of language and measure language response and development in newborns.”

Then, within 48 hours of birth, history repeats itself, this time in three languages, to the babies, who are fitted with a helmet equipped with sensors that measure brain activation using near-infrared spectroscopy.

These recordings of brain activity will be made at different stages of growth of children up to three years of age so that the trajectory of brain, language and cognitive development can be observed.

Assess language development in children.

Anne Gallagher

Anne Gallagher

Credit: Jimmy Hamelin

Entitled Study of Children’s Language or ÉLAN, this project, which began this summer and will continue in the fall, was launched four years ago. Funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, it is part of a neuroimaging research program to assess the development of language neural networks and the effects of brain plasticity in young, older and healthy children.

The ÉLAN project has the more specific objective of measuring this development from birth to three years of age, in relation to prenatal exposure to language.

“ÉLAN aims to better understand the developmental trajectories of brain networks and how they are associated with the development of cognitive, motor and language skills in young children,” concludes Anne Gallagher. There are several studies on this topic, but their methodologies do not allow us to identify precise developmental trajectories and our project should fill this gap by following a cohort over time from birth.”

It should be noted that the ÉLAN project is led by Natacha Paquette, neuropsychologist and coordinator of the LION laboratory, and is part of a vast initiative aimed at establishing a normative database in Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) to which Laura Caron-Desrochers, Sarah Provost, Laurence Petitpas, and Charles Lepage contribute. Also participating are Phetsamone Vannasing and engineer Julie Tremblay, who provides data analysis for all LION lab projects.

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