Friday, 1 June 2007

Why babies probably don't like dubbed movies either

If I presented you with a silent video of someone speaking – do you think that you'd be able to tell if they switched from English to French? Remarkably, between the ages of four and six months, babies can tell. However, it's a skill they lose by the age of eight months, unless they are raised in a bilingual environment.

Whitney Weikum and colleagues played 36 babies the same silent video of a person saying one sentence in one language (English or French), over and over again, until the babies grew bored of it and stopped looking at it so much.

Next they played them a test sentence which featured the same speaker uttering a new sentence in a new language. They compared how long the babies looked at this video with how long they looked at a control video that featured the same speaker, a new sentence, but the same language as in the video they'd grown bored of earlier. If they looked longer when the language had switched than at the control video, this would strongly suggest the babies had registered something different was going on when a new language was spoken – even though there was no sound.

And that's exactly what the researchers found: 4-month-old and 6-month-old babies looked longer at the new silent videos when the language being spoken had changed. Eight-month-old babies didn't register the change in language, unless - a second experiment showed - they were being raised as bilingual.

This study provides the latest example of a discriminatory ability that we start off life with, but then lose, as we adapt to our environment. Other examples include the ability to discriminate consonant and vowel sounds from foreign languages, to discriminate rhythms from other cultures' music, and to distinguish between the faces of individuals within a given animal species.

Weikum, W.M., Vouloumanos, A., Navarra, J., Soto-Faraco, S., Sebastian-Galles, N. & Werker, J.F. (2007). Visual language discrimination in infancy. Science, 316, 1159.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to example of English silent video
Link to example of French silent video


Douglas Eason said...

I take it you don't have the actual video footage do you? I'd merely like to see it myself, since with communication, the majority of it is said to be physical. The English language has far more words in it than French as far as I know. This means that we have a word for almost anything we want to say and someone speaking French, may need to apply some other technique in order to get the message across. This could be intonation and/or movement, therefore one would assume that the baby is registering the change in body language and engagement in the spoken text.

I don't feel that we actually lose this ability when we grow older. We naturally sense an uneasiness or tension in the air if we walk into a room where two people have been fighting and are now not talking to each other.

Unknown said...

Hi Rednose
A couple of the videos they used are freely available online - I've added in the links to these.

Health Watch Center said...

Hello Christian,

This post is very interesting but got probs when I tried to watch those videos.

Self Help Zone

Unknown said...

the videos work for me. You need quicktime

Ewa said...

Even children notice that dubbing is unnatural. It is much better to watch original versions. If you don’t speak the language of the original, choose subtitles. If you speak it a little, you may want to watch e.g. an English film with English subtitles, it will help your comprehension and will raise your perception of correct pronunciation and intonation patterns.
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