Astounding babies

The new study involved showing videos to 36 infants of three bilingual French-English speakers reciting sentences. After being trained to become comfortable with a speaker reciting a sentence in one language, babies ages 4 and 6 months spent more time looking at a speaker reciting a sentence in a different language—demonstrating that they could tell the difference.

"In everything that we do in our research, babies seem to come out with these amazing capabilities," said Whitney M. Weikum, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia whose work is overseen by language processing specialist Janet F. Werker. "As young infants, they come set with abilities to make a lot of fine discriminations, and they continue to astound us."

The research also serves as a reminder that language is a multimedia experience, said psychologist George Hollich of Purdue University.

"We don't just see a rose," Hollich explained. "We feel the softness of its petals and we smell its perfume. Likewise, language isn't just hearing or seeing a word 'rose.' We immediately relate that word to a rose's sight, touch and smell, even the sight of a person saying that word. Ben Franklin noted that he could 'understand French better by the help of his spectacles.' This work shows that infants too can recognize some languages solely by looking on the face."

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