Babies need a break from teething toys to better learn sounds, study finds

A University of British Columbia has found that there is a direct link between an infant's ability to distinguish speech sounds and tongue movements.

New research finds that babies need to be able to move their tongues to better understand speech

Preventing infants' tongues from moving impedes their ability to distinguish between speech sounds, say researchers with the University of British Columbia. (iStock)

A baby's ability to wiggle its tongue has a lot to do with the infant's ability to understand speech, say researchers at the University of British Columbia. 

"If you think about it, it makes sense — if we are to become language users, we have to both hear and produce the language that is spoken around us," said Janet Werker, senior author and professor of Psychology at University of British Columbia. 

"There are connections between motor area of the brain and the auditory area of the brain even in early infancy.

"Our work shows that those connections are important in speech processing," she said. 

In the study, six-month-old babies were given teething toys. They then listened to two different Hindi 'd' sounds.

The babies that were able to move their tongues were able to make the distinction. But the babies' tongues that were restricted and unable to mimic the sounds because of the teething toy were unable to distinguish between the sounds. 

Time-out for teething toys

The researchers aren't yet suggesting that teething toys are bad for babies. 

"They are probably not, babies everywhere put something in their mouth," said Werker. 

Instead, Werker is suggesting that babies need time for their tongues to be free so they can learn. 

Researchers hope their work can help with babies that are unable to move their tongue because of oral facial dysmorphology or motor impairments of the mouth. 


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled Babies need free tongue movement to decipher speech sounds on CBC's Daybreak South.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.