Will speaking different languages to babies during pregnancy promote the acquisition of language skills before birth?
A research team from the Sher lab led by Professor Anne Gallagher from the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal and researchers in neuropsychology at CHU Sainte-Justine is trying to determine this.
The initial hypothesis is based on the premise that during pregnancy – and especially in the last trimester – the unborn baby’s language network is modified according to the sounds and sounds to which it is exposed. It may therefore allow him to more easily process and recognize what is familiar to him, including his mother tongue.
“We believe that, from the first hours of life, the baby’s brain’s response to hearing sounds will be influenced by the language it may have heard during pregnancy,” says Laura Caron-Desrochers, a doctoral student in clinical neuropsychology. , who set out to complete this ambitious project with the help of other members of Professor Gallagher’s team.
A story being told in your mother’s womb… in three languages!
credit: credit photo
To verify this hypothesis, the research team recruited 72 pregnant women at CHU Saint-Justine, who were divided into three groups.
In the first two, future mothers had to listen to the fetus the same story of Martin’s character in two languages - French and German or French and Hebrew – daily, through earphones placed on the stomach.I pregnancy week. The women who made up the third group or the control group were not subjected to any protocol.
“German and Hebrew were chosen because of their rhythmic qualities that are very different from French and are two languages that differ significantly from each other on a phonetic level, explain Charles Lepage, doctoral student in neuropsychology and project manager Fatsmon Wansing. . This allows us to assess all aspects of language and to measure language response and development in newborns.”
Then, within 48 hours after their birth, the story is played out again, in three languages, to infants, who are equipped with helmets fitted with sensors that measure brain activation using near-infrared spectroscopy.
These recordings of brain activity will be done at different stages of children’s development up to the age of three to see the trajectory of brain, language and cognitive development.
assessing language development in children
credit: Jimmy Hamelin
Entitled Infant Language Studies or LAN, the project, which began this summer and will continue into the fall, was launched four years ago. Funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, it is part of a neuroimaging research program to assess the development of language neural networks and the effects of brain plasticity in children.
The LAN project aims to specifically measure this development in relation to prenatal exposure to language, from birth to age three.
Anne Gallagher concluded, “ALAN aims to better understand the developmental trajectory of brain networks and how they are associated with the development of cognitive, language, and motor skills in young children. There are many studies on this topic, but their methodology is not accurate. does not make it possible to identify development paths and our project must fill this gap by following a group from birth through time.
It should be noted that the LAN project is led by Natacha Paquet, neuropsychologist and coordinator of the Lion Laboratory, and is part of a larger initiative aimed at establishing a standard database in near infrared spectroscopy (Near Infrared Spectroscopy or NIRS). to which Laura Caron-Desrochers, Sarah Provost, Laurence Petitpas and Charles Lepage contribute. Also participating are Phetsamon Vannasing and engineer Julie Tremblay, who provide data analysis for all LION laboratory projects.