Singing to Baby is Crucial for Language Learning

Whether you love nightly lullabies and nursery rhymes or dreaded in-car sing-a-longs, a new study shows that your daily routine of singing could be more rewarding -benefits for the baby more than you think.

The researchers from University of Cambridge found that speaking singsong plays an important role in facilitating infant language learning. The study suggests that rhythmic information, specifically the pitch modulation observed in nursery rhymes or songs, aided the process, and it’s not hard to see why. From simple sing-song rhythms found in the alphabet to songs used when learning a foreign language, what starts as a simple tune will easily guide you from one word to another and stick in your head in the coming years.

For the study, researchers recorded patterns of electrical brain activity in 50 infants at four, seven and eleven months of age as they watched a video of a teacher singing 18 nursery rhymes to a baby These low frequency bands of brainwaves are fed through a special algorithm, which makes a ‘reading’ of the phonological information being encoded.

Researchers have found that phonetic encoding develops gradually in infants during the first year of life, beginning with labial sounds (e.g. d for “daddy”) and nasal sounds (e.g. m for “mummy “), with a gradual looking ‘read out’ as in adults. The findings, published in the journal Communication in Nature come is stark contrast to the previously held theory that phonetic information (think Hooked on Phonics) is the key to the language development.

“Our research shows that individual speech sounds are not processed reliably until around seven months, even though most babies recognize familiar words like ‘bottle’ at this point,” said Cambridge neuroscientist Professor Usha Goswami in a press release. “Since then, individual speech sounds are still being added very slowly – too slowly to form the basis of language.”

Researchers believe that this method of singing rhythmic speech helps babies learn language by emphasizing the boundaries of individual words and is effective even in the first months of life. “We believe that speech rhythm information is the hidden glue that underpins the development of a well-functioning language system,” says Goswami. “Infants can use rhythmic information like a scaffold or skeleton to add phonetic information to.”

As an example, Goswami says that “the rhythm pattern of English words is usually weak, as in ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy’, with stress on the first syllable.” Using this built-in knowledge that comes from by listening to rhythmic patterns, they can better predict where one word ends and another begins.

“Parents should talk and sing to their babies as much as possible or use infant directed speech such as nursery rhymes as this will make a difference in language outcomes,” he added. Nor is this the first time that positive effects of singing on the baby have been linked. Previous research has suggested that singing to babies can help with emotional regulation and even improve their health.

So keep those songs coming!

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