A new study shows that by the age of seven months, babies are capable of distinguishing and learning the grammar of two different languages.
Researchers have found that babes who are born and grow up in a bilingual environment can as early as seven months of age distinguish between and learn the grammar of the two different languages. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia and Université Paris Descartes.
Infants use duration cues and pitch to differentiate between languages like English and Japanese. For example, function words come before a noun like "the" do, "his" house, "an" apple, etc and have a longer duration in the English language. However, in Hindi and Japanese the order is reverse and the pitch of the content word is higher.
"By as early as seven months, babies are sensitive to these differences and use these as cues to tell the languages apart," says UBC psychologist Janet Werker, co-author of the study.
"For example, in English the words 'the' and 'with' come up a lot more frequently than other words -- they're essentially learning by counting," says Judit Gervain, a linguist at the Université Paris Descarte. "But babies growing up bilingual need more than that, so they develop new strategies that monolingual babies don't necessarily need to use."
"If you speak two languages at home, don't be afraid, it's not a zero-sum game," said Werker. "Your baby is very equipped to keep these languages separate and they do so in remarkable ways."
The findings were published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications and presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.