Babes in Utero Learning Languages!

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.

Learning chess.

Learning chess.

Reading with Great-Grandma
Reading with Great-GrandmaDSC_1184Suzuki violin


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. ( I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
This entry was posted in commentary, Education, Family, Grandchildren, parenting, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Babes in Utero Learning Languages!

  1. Parenting has always been demanding, now we add this! Amazing stuff though…


  2. This could open up a whole new industry. Can you imagine. It would also make the world an even smaller place. Children would be able to communicate much earlier with each other. Thanks, this is very enlightening.


  3. Doomed: too late. Oh, if only I had known in time to set the proper stage. Now my children have to waddle through life without those extra advantages.


  4. What a little cutie you have, and it sounds like he got a VERY good start! I love the picture of him with his tiny violin!

    I was in the hospital for a month during the summer before Eli was born. My husband was a teacher, and he stayed most nights at the hospital with me. He used to read to us for hours at a time, every day. It was to keep me entertained and so that the baby would know his voice, but I’m sure Eli picked up much more than that. He was way beyond his years, with perfect SAT scores, and is now a Fulbright scholar.

    I do see it all the time–parents ignoring their children at the park to speak on their cell phones. So sad. What a wasted opportunity to connect with your child.


  5. Jess told me that babies know when you’re speaking a different language…and the Love Bug did stop moving and look quizzically at us when we started speaking French! So I believe it, let the in-utero language lab begin pregnant parents!!


  6. Patti Winker says:

    Interesting. Does anyone remember back in the 70s when we put those big headphones on our pregnant bellies and played music (classical was suggested) so baby in utero would develop an appreciation for music? Remember the Baby Einstein series in the 90s that said if you had your baby watch your baby would become a genius?

    I think there’s some truth in all these theories. Subject your baby to lots and lots of input and you’ll get lots and lots of output. I suppose you just have to be careful what sort of input you feed your baby. Remember GIGO – garbage in garbage out. So, yeah, I agree. Feed your baby music, languages, and stories inside and outside the uterus. It’s very cool and most likely very rewarding.

    Thanks for the info, Lisa, and also for the fun pictures. So cute!


    • I had hoped this would come off as satirical, but guess I still need to work on that. Yes, remember all those things – and the basic truth is nature and nuture go hand in hand.

      On Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 3:03 PM, cyclingrandma


  7. hugmamma says:

    I read one 2 books prior to my only daughter’s birth 26 years ago. While I found a few helpful tips, I soon opted to “go with the flow.” The “flow” being…what felt best and right for my daughter and me in our developing relationship. She’s turned out just fine. There have been hiccups along the way. Whose life is without them? They present as golden opportunities to learn what works…and what doesn’t.

    Parenting is a gift for which we’re never prepared…but richly rewarded when figured out. 🙂


  8. I think it is a little too late for my dudes. They both do have a liking for the Beatles and James Taylor – both of which I played for them while they were in utero. 😉


  9. Colline says:

    The image I have in my mind now is of mommys-to-be with headphones placed on their tummies! Will this now be another craze?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s