Are You Talkin' To Me?

New clues about how babies learn language.


Chatting face-to-face with your baby as well as following her gaze and discussing what can be found are ways parents can help encourage their babies’ language development, suggests recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Babies lip-read

It’s true that your newborn loves to look you in the eye—it’s the part of the face that has the most contrast—but when it’s time to figure out how to coo and babble, at around 6 months old, chances are he’ll find your mouth much more interesting.

Watch a video of your baby's development at six months.

In the first study to use eye tracking to determine where babies focus their attention when learning to talk, researchers discovered that babies focus on speakers’ eyes at 4 months of age, mouths and eyes equally at 6 months and heavily on speakers’ mouths at 8 months to 10 months. “

By 12 months, their gaze shifts back to the eyes,” says study author David J. Lewkowicz, Ph.D., a professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla. “They already know how to make the sounds and are beginning to learn that the eyes contain a lot of social information.”

Watch a video of your baby's development at 12 months.

Babies know word meanings early on

Contrary to popular belief, young infants are not too busy learning basic speech patterns to also begin associating words with meanings, research suggests.

In a study of 33 6- to 9-month-olds, researchers presented babies with sets of pictures while their parent named a picture in each set. The majority of infants directed their gaze at the named pictures, indicating their understanding of spoken words, the researchers wrote. According to lead researcher Elika Bergelson, graduate student in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, “Parents should talk to their infants as much as possible.”

Read More: Talking: Your baby's first words >>