It’s often said that children pick up languages faster than adults, and the younger new languages are introduced, the quicker they learn. A new study now suggests that babies who hear two languages in the womb are already on the path to bilingualism.

The team of psychological scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada found that language acquisition takes place even before birth, with babies picking up on languages in the womb. They found a correlation between a “sucking reflex” (which apparently shows stimulus or interest) and being spoken to in different languages.

On average, monolingual English babies gave more strong sucks per minute when hearing English, while bilingual babies gave the same number of sucks upon hearing both languages.

Realizing the bilingual babies could have shown equal interest in both languages simply because they didn’t know the difference, the researchers devised a second experiment to determine if the babies were able to tell the languages apart.

The infants heard sentences being spoken in one language until they lost interest. Then they either heard sentences spoken in the other language or sentences spoken in the same language, but by a different person.

The result found babies sucked more when they heard the language change, but not with a different person speaking the same language, suggesting they are able to tell the difference between two languages from early stages in life.

Werker said many bilingual parents are concerned that if they speak two languages, their children are going to be language-delayed or confused — but this research refutes that notion. (Source: Vancouver Sun)

I’ve always wanted to be bilingual and am now struggling as an adult to pick up Spanish. I guess with this news I can blame my lack of language skills on my parents for not speaking to me in anything other than English!