UBC Logo It now seems that exposure to two native languages influences the development of perceptual sensitivity that extends beyond the mother tongues. In a major breakthrough, scientists from the University of British Columbia found that babies bought up in Spanish and Catalan speaking households can distinguish between English and French by simply watching people speak, even though they have never been exposed to these new languages before. The study findings appear significantly crucial in the health-space.

While conducting the study, infants of four and six months were made to see silent videos of talking faces speaking English and French. It was observed that babies growing up bilingual with Spanish and Catalan were seemingly capable of distinguishing between English and French through facial cues alone. Scientists mention that none of the study subjects had previously seen speakers of either language.

“The fact that this perceptual vigilance extends even to two unfamiliar languages suggests that it’s not just the characteristics of the native languages that bilingual infants have learned about, but that they appear to have also developed a more general perceptual vigilance,” said Janet Werker, a psychologist from the University of British Columbia.

It was concluded that bilingual infants can possibly comprehend different native languages at four, six and eight months after birth. However, monolingual newborns may be able to understand two languages at four and six months. They are presumably unable to discern languages at eight months. In conclusion, it was asserted that bilingual infants have better abilities to spot on different languages, than those from monolingual backgrounds.

The study was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.