Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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Hearing from Seven to Twelve Months - An Overviewclick to print Print
Research Review / Parent

Written by: Lori Leibold, University of North Carolina

By seven months of age, babies have an accurate code of the basic properties of sound. This basic code is needed for the development of speech and language. This does not mean that seven- to twelve-month-old babies can hear and understand speech as well as adults. They are still trying to figure out what sounds are the most important and what sounds they should ignore.

Auditory Behavior - Sophisticated Responses to Sound

Seven- to twelve-month-olds make a variety of different responses to sound. These responses are fun to watch and observe. By seven months, Nico loved it when his grandmother called his name. He would turn to look at her and smile, even if she spoke his name softly.

By the end of the first year of life, babies start to learn and imitate many of the sounds they hear around them. Audrey loves playing with her own voice and often wakes up her parents in the morning with her vocal "play". She has also figured out that she can get her parents' attention by making sounds!

Listening in Quiet - Auditory Sensitivity

Although seven- to twelve-month-old babies still do not hear soft sounds quite as well as older children and adults, they are more sensitive to soft sounds than just a few months ago. In the audiology clinic, seven to twelve-month olds will respond to sound levels that are within the upper limits of normal hearing.

Central Auditory Processing - Learning When, Where, and How to Use Sound

Adults listen selectively and are very good at focusing on the most important details of sound. The ability to listen selectively to some sounds while ignoring others helps adults to understand speech and detect soft sounds even when the background is noisy. This "selective listening" has taken years of experience with sound to fully develop.

Unlike adults, babies are new to the world and have not had a lot of exposure to different sounds. Audrey's parents love to talk to her. However, her experiences with sound are limited. For example, she has never been to a music concert or listened to the voices of older children. This lack of experience with sound makes it harder for Audrey to figure out what sounds she should pay attention to and what sounds she should ignore.

Researchers have discovered that babies listen to sound in a "broad" or "global" way. This way of listening means that they tend to listen to all of sounds in the environment instead of focusing on the sounds that are the most important. This broad style of listening helps babies learn about the sounds in their environment.

Listening in Noise: Vulnerability to Interference from Background Sounds

Babies tend to listen to all of the sounds in the environment instead of focusing on the sounds that are the most important. Although listening to all sounds helps babies to learn about their native language, they have difficulty hearing when there are a lot of different sounds to listen to at once. Adults can pay attention to the voice of one talker while ignoring the voices of other talkers. Babies have trouble ignoring background sounds. For example, Nico has a harder time listening to his mother's voice at a loud restaurant than at the library.

Implications of Broadband Listening: Learning about Speech

Researchers have suggested that infants listen in a broad way in order to learn as much as they can about speech in many different listening situations. But as they are trying to learn as much as they can about speech, babies are vulnerable to the effects of background noise. Learning about speech is likely much harder for babies when there is a lot of noise and competing sounds in the environment. These research findings highlight the importance of reducing the amount of background noise in the environment to allow babies to learn as much as they can about sounds.

Leibold, L. (2007). Parent/Caregiver Narrative: Auditory Development 7 - 12 Months. In L.M. Phillips (Ed.), Handbook of language and literacy development: A Roadmap from 0 - 60 Months. [online], pp. 1 - 8. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Available at: Handbook of language and literacy development