It is obvious that babies slowly learn spoken language, beginning to soak up that material very shortly after birth. But less is known about the point in the developmental process at which they begin to favor verbal, spoken language over the visual cues given through motion and other forms of visual language. Researchers set out to study the phenomenon through eye tracking of infants and babies, and found that 6-month old babies tracked the motion of adults gestures at a rate that was 20% higher than that exhibited by one-year-olds.

In addition to absorbing spoken language, six-month-old babies can also pick up on visual languages, such as gestures and fingerspelling. But by the time the child is a year old, this ability greatly diminishes. This research has implications for hearing parents of deaf children and underscores the importance of very early intervention.

This behavior is in line with what is known about the development of verbal language in babies – at the age of 6 months, babies are acutely receptive to their native language and tend to tune out input from other languages and forms of communication. The recent research shows, now, that this is the same as well for the ways that babies perceive and learn from gesture-based visual languages.
Parents and scientists know babies are learning sponges that can pick up any language they’re born into. But not as much is known about whether that includes visual language.
~Gretchen McCulloch

Key Takeaways:

Researchers claim to have found new insight about how babies tend to learn. Parents notice that babies do learn a language in the home.
Parents are eager to learn more about the way that young kids learn at home. That could influence parenting strategies in the future as well.
The research seems to point to some key factors that are now being understood. These researchers are pleased to share their findings and learn a little about that work.

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