• Can babies understand what people are saying to them before they can talk?

    By Nicola Pitchford -

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Do you have a baby brother or sister? How much do you think they understand?

For several years now scientists have been trying to find out how much babies understand about the speech around them. From a very early age babies are starting to learn the words for everyday objects and actions. They even become aware of common sounds in certain places in words, such as sounds at the beginning and ends of words. This helps them know where words start and where they end in conversations.

Paul Graham, 'Television Portrait (Danny, Bristol),' 1991

  • Television Portrait (Danny, Bristol), 1991
  • Paul Graham
  • © Paul Graham

We know that babies don’t pick up new language from watching television. They need to hear people talking to them.

From our experiments we also know that babies can understand much more than they can say. But when they start to speak babies can learn to say many new words in a very short time. Just like babies have physical growth spurts when their body gets bigger and taller babies have language spurts when they suddenly start to understand and talk more.

Some scientists believe that babies are born to understand speech and this is what makes humans special.  So if you have a baby brother or sister, talk to them – they may be following what you say!

Discussion Area

  1. My 1 year 4months baby mimic the sound of words and sometime even small sentences.

    Vincent Jude.E.P - January 23, 2012

  2. Sometimes babies mimic us. But I’m more than a few months old and I still mimic

    Helen - August 25, 2012

  3. i love this game very much

    lillian - December 25, 2012

  4. I can remember being four months old (I have an unusually good memory) and I recall thinking not in language as such, like english, but in a different way. For example, I wanted to see what was beyond the hood of the pram, I remember thinking in a mixture of English and not words, just sort of.. Feelings… It’s hard to explain, but it’s not really a language as it has no grammar.
    I also remember, now being a few months older, trying to learn to talk, I could think in full sentences, I knew where capital letters and full stops went. I didn’t know about commas yet. I knew about exclamation marks and question marks though. My father was trying to get me to say “Daddy” and I shook my head. He asked me why, and I thought “because I don’t want to”. No capital ‘b’ but a capital ‘I’.
    I hope this provides some insight.

    Lucy - January 19, 2013