Language Exposure in Utero

Infant Speech Perception

A Fetus Can Hear You!

-Peripheral Auditory System mature by 26 weeks

-Properties of womb facilitate auditory transmission

-Low frequencies and bone conduction

Initial Evidence

-Babies show a preference to mother's voice from birth

-Show a preference to mother's language

Infant Speech Perception

Babies possess an initial ability to distinguish differences in language. From this they begin to build fundamental knowledge of language. They are ready to learn! The question is when do they start learning?

Recent Research- Three Key Experiments

-English vs. Tagalog

-Measuring brain responses 0-3 days after birth

-Differences in Vowels

-A two-country study

-Swedish vs. English

-Neural Activity

-Is language being learned and remembered?

Of Particular Interest...

-Exposure to structured speech may enhance speech discrimination

-Hearing a great deal of speech before birth may have positive effects

-More speech will prepare fetus to analyze speech in the future

-The opposite effect in noisy chaotic environments

What Are Our Conclusions? Can We Make Any At All?

Appropriate Exposure = Enhanced Speech Perception = Building Blocks for Language Acquisition

Brain Storm!

How might poor language exposure in utero affect language?

Reference List

Gervain, J., & Mehler, J. (2010). Speech perception and language acquisition in the first year of life. Annual review of psychology, 61, 191-218. Retrieved from

Gonzalez-Gomez, N., & Nazzi, T. (2012). Phonotactic acquisition in healthy preterm infants. Developmental Science, 15(6), 885-894. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2012.01186.x

May, L., Byers-Heinlein, K., Gervain, J., & Werker, J. F. (2011). Language and the newborn brain: does prenatal language experience shape the neonate neural response to speech? Frontiers in psychology, 2. Retrieved from

Moon, C., Lagercrantz, H. and Kuhl, P. K. (2013). Language experienced in utero affects vowel perception after birth: a two-country study. Acta Paediatrica, 102: 156-160. Doi: 10.1111/apa. 12098

Partanen, E., Kujala, T., Näätänen, R., Liitola, A., Sambeth, A., & Huotilainen, M. (2013). Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(37), 15145-15150. Retrieved from

Tsao, F., Liu, H., & Kuhl, P. K. (2004). Speech perception in infancy predicts language development in the second year of life: a longitudinal study. Child Development, 75(4), 1067-1084. Retrieved from