In utero, what can a baby possibly learn about sound, language, or grammar? How about the sound of his mother’s and father’s voice, his puppy’s bark, certainly his sister’s talking, and the many sounds routine to what will soon be his daily life. Built into all these is familiarity; in most of these the baby learns the spoken word, the inflection in the voices giving sentences “flavor,” then the magic of his own response. Thus it is quite safe to assume that verbalization is paramount, and here reading ultimately plays a most central role in linguistic development as well as the caregiver, the grammar checker.
Effects on this Unborn Life
Scientists have shown that talking, singing nursery rhymes or playing music to entertain or comfort the child in the womb is actually an important step in language development and should be encouraged. Indeed, the spoken word creates a fetal reaction, one might say, in preparation for story time as he cuddles on Mommy’s or Daddy’s lap. And it is intriguing when very young infants hear stories read to them in the womb, they settle down as if hearing something very familiar, possibly waiting for the same tone of voice and modulations. I remember reading a story to my son I had read to him before he was born, and his head deliberately turned toward me, even though I had been talking to him before the reading began.
What about “Baby Talk?”
Often adults feel silly when they talk to babies and especially when they talk to unborn babies using the sing-song style called “baby talk.” However, research has shown this is exactly how fetuses learn to use speech. In the scientific community, this “baby talk” is termed “infant-directed speech.” Infant-directed speech typically uses short, simple sentences coupled with higher pitch and exaggerated intonation. Although parents and other caregivers are quite aware babies delight in this familiar speech style, research has revealed that infant-directed speech also helps infants learn words more quickly than normal adult speech. For example, infants exposed to fluent speech with the exaggerated intonation, characteristic of infant-directed speech learned to identify words more quickly than infants who heard fluent speech spoken in a more monotone, or the deeper more stoic adult, fashion. These findings are true in unborn babies, as well. In addition it is my opinion as a mother and teacher, a combination of both baby talk and expression used in reading to babies, in and out of the womb is vital.
Reading to these wee unborn children, and infants alike, is one of the surest ways to encourage sentence development. It reveals examples of what sentences are, how they are constructed, and especially how those action words, verbs give life to the strings of nouns and objects. Reading divulges the riches of vocabulary, and parts of speech, like synonyms and adjectives which encourage fantasy and imagination. What a treat to think the bundle of joy all snug inside his mom will have such an incredible edge on cognition even before she holds him!
Answers to the Question
Though as infants and certainly not fetuses, children are unaware of all the nuances of language, there is exposure to them on a regular basis through the spoken word. Studies have also revealed children read to consistently, in utero and beyond, have much higher intelligence and use more of their brain than those little ones void of this integral opportunity. So, is it time for a grammar check with the children in your home; have they been read to today; do you have your free library card? Now is the time to begin!