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According to scientists, singing to infants is crucial for their language development.


How many people would read these letters to the tune of the alphabet?

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered that singsong speech plays a crucial role in helping infants learn language, debunking the belief that earworms only annoy parents in English-speaking countries.

The research found that babies acquire language skills through rhythmic cues, such as the patterns of tone in nursery rhymes and songs, like the well-known alphabet song.

The Cambridge team’s findings revealed that infants do not start to comprehend phonetic information, which includes the tiniest speech sounds, until they reach approximately seven months of age.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that the common belief that phonetic information, represented by the alphabet, is crucial for language acquisition, may not be accurate.

According to the findings, dyslexia and developmental language disorder could potentially be linked to problems with rhythm perception instead of challenges with processing phonetic details.

According to the study’s author, Prof Usha Goswami, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, their research reveals that babies do not consistently process individual speech sounds until they are approximately seven months old, despite being able to recognize familiar words like ‘bottle’ by this stage.

We think that the process of adding individual speech sounds is happening at a slow pace, which is not enough to build a language system. Rather, we believe that speech rhythm information is the key element that supports the development of a fully functional language system.

It is recommended for parents to engage in frequent communication and singing with their infants, or utilize infant-directed speech such as nursery rhymes, as it can greatly impact their language development in the future.

Previously, it was believed that infants acquire small sound units and combine them to form words.

In order to determine if this was true, the scientists observed the brain patterns of 50 babies at the ages of four, seven, and eleven months while they viewed a video of a teacher singing 18 nursery rhymes.

The team utilized unique algorithms to decipher how the babies were storing this information in their brains.

Researchers discovered that infants develop the ability to phonetically encode language over the course of their first year of life. This process starts with dental sounds, like “d” for “daddy,” which are created by the upper front teeth, and nasal sounds, like “m” for “mummy,” which are made by directing airflow through the nose.

According to Goswami, babies are able to utilize rhythmic cues as a foundation to incorporate phonetic details. For instance, they may observe that English words typically follow a strong-weak rhythm pattern, such as in words like “daddy” or “mummy”, where the emphasis is placed on the first syllable.

This rhythm pattern can aid in identifying word boundaries when listening to spoken language.

According to her, all languages have a fundamental element of rhythm that is present in infancy. This involves a consistent beat with a strong syllable occurring twice per second. She also noted that there is a biological inclination to emphasize this rhythm when communicating with babies.

This research is part of the BabyRhythm project, headed by Goswami, which aims to explore the connection between language and dyslexia as well as developmental language disorder.

She stated that there has been a longstanding attempt to interpret these issues as phonetic difficulties, but the evidence does not support this and variations in children’s language acquisition abilities may stem from rhythm.

Source: theguardian.com