Attention parents: Forget nursery school for your little ones. Forget early language school. Don’t bother worrying that they should learn Chinese by age 1.
It’s too late.
According to a new study, you missed the chance to give your cherished cherubs a jump on literacy, the one that will help them be accepted later in life into society, into a famous college and land a high-paying influential job.
Why? Because babies learn language in utero. Those exposed to language while still cooking in the oven, 10 weeks before they sip air on their own, can absorb sounds, particularly vowels.
Led by Christine Moon, a psychology professor at Pacific Lutheran University, American and Swedish scientists gave newborns, ranging in age from 7 to 75 hours old, electronically modified pacifiers that counted the number of sucks as the babies listened to tapes of vowel sounds. English sounds for the Swedish babes; Swedish sounds for the American ones. Hearing the foreign sounds caused the babies to suck more, leading the researchers to conclude that the babies can distinguish between native and non-native sounds; a skill they developed in utero.
Pre-Natal learning! An entire industry can develop around the concept. Music and art lessons. Books on tape. Rosetta Stone for Infants. Why waste that valuable time; they’re just hanging around, growing, when they can get a leap on learning that will last a lifetime.
Of course, mothers used to talk, sing, and read to their yet-to-be born babies.
Then portable music and cell phones invaded everyone’s personal space, mandating that we place hard plastic buds into our ears and listen and talk endlessly. Babes in strollers are left on their own to notice birds and trees, dogs and fire trucks.
So perhaps pre-natal learning is the answer. It takes over where parents fail. Imagine, with every doctor’s appointment, the expectant mother has to spend an hour allowing her fetus to listen to language tapes. She could learn too. Doctors’ waiting rooms can become learning labs. The entire world would become more bi- or tri–lingual.
My first son, Jacob, was born two weeks after the estimated due date. Years later, we joked that he was waiting to finish a book or chess game, skills he learned quite early. He was proficient at chess by age 4 and could beat many competent adults by age 5. When he began to read at age 6, he never went anywhere without at least three books. He studied Latin, French and Japanese, and is fluent in Hebrew. Imagine what he’d know if I’d exposed him to prenatal learning.