The first words a baby speaks are very special to its parents. Babies learn language by listening to the sounds around them. It is amazing to see the language acquisition ability of babies, who learn to speak in less than a year after birth and then become able to communicate within a few years. I bet most of you wish to be able to learn a second language like babies do! In this article, I would like to explore the ranking of the first Japanese and English words spoken by babies in Japan and the U.S., as well as hints for language acquisition from the process of language acquisition by babies.
・Ranking of first words spoken by babies in Japan and the U.S.
During the first few months of life, babies learn to "coo", which is the production of their own voice while listening to the sounds around them. Next, around six months, they start "babbling," which is similar to the rhythm and sound of speech. This is considered the first step in forming language. After 10 months, babies begin to produce their first words, which vary from person to person. Are there differences in the first meaningful words for babies in different languages? Let's take a look at the ranking of first words spoken by Japanese and English-speaking babies.
・Ranking of the first words spoken by Japanese babies
Manma (gohan) = mom (food)
Oppai = breast milk
Inai-inaiba~a = peekaboo
Mama = mom
Ha~i = Yes (reply)
wan wan (woof woof) = doggy
Nen'ne = bedtime (for a baby)
Papa = daddy
Bai bai = bye-bye
Yoisho = an exclamation/remark used when lifting oneself up
*Surveyed by NTT Communication Science Laboratories in 2008
Target: 398 parents with children aged 10 months to 3 years old; Period: April 2007 - February 2008
・Ranking of first words spoken by babies in English-speaking countries
2nd uh oh
6th woof woof
10th yum yum
From "あかちゃんごおしゃべりずかんEnglish" (Akachango oshaberizukan)
Stanford University, Professor M. C. Frank research
Words and greetings such as "mommy", "daddy", "bye-bye" and "bye" are ranked high in both Japanese and English-speaking countries. Not only are the sounds "ma", "pa", and "da" easy for babies to pronounce, but they are also spoken from words that are familiar to them, regardless of language.
・What is the process by which a baby learns a language?
So what is the process by which babies begin to speak and communicate using language after birth?
- Period of sensitivityBabies have a particularly sensitive period of language learning between birth and infancy. During this period, they are sensitive to differences in sounds and rhythms and begin to lay the foundation for language. During this period, they acquire the sounds and accents of their native language.
- Listening and imitationBabies learn language by carefully listening to and imitating the sounds and words around them. They acquire sounds and accents by imitating the speech of their parents and caregivers. This imitation process forms the basis for language acquisition and contributes to the development of conversational skills.
- Communication with othersLanguage is a means of communication. Babies learn how to grasp and use language through interaction with others. By listening to conversations with parents and others around them and communicating their intentions, babies understand the meaning of language one by one and develop their communication skills.
- Understanding the contextLanguage is often context-dependent, and babies begin to understand through communication in different situations and contexts in which words are used. For example, from the greeting "いただきます (Itadakimasu)" at mealtime, babies learn that certain words will be used in relation to specific actions, such as "まんま、おいしいね (Mama, that's delicious)" or "もうおしまい (I'm done)". Through contextual understanding, babies develop the skills to properly grasp the meaning of words and communicate effectively.
- Speech developmentBabies begin by vocalizing sounds, which evolve into words that connect to create phrases (two- and three-word sentences). What starts out as simple speech imitation gradually develops into language, and through interaction with parents and others around them, they refine their speech skills and become able to better express their thoughts and feelings.
- Environment and stimulationBabies grow up surrounded by language environment and learn language through daily stimulations. Language acquisition is facilitated by providing an environment rich in surrounding words and sounds. A multitude of stimulations and language environments help babies acquire language effectively.
The process by which a baby acquires language is a combination of various elements of context. Together, these elements work in harmony to allow the baby to acquire language and develop communication skills in a more natural way.
・Tips for learning a foreign language from a baby's language acquisition
The characteristics of the baby's brain and the surrounding environment as well as stimulations are major factors in the baby's language acquisition. In terms of environment, the process of babies listening to and imitating the conversations of their mothers, fathers, and other familiar people is very effective for foreign language acquisition. In the following, I will take into consideration how babies' language learning can help us learn a foreign language.
- Listen a lotBabies imitate the first words they hear and gradually develop their communication skills. Listening skills are also fundamental in foreign language learning. Understanding the pronunciation and rhythm of native speakers and learning the sound patterns of their language will help you acquire natural Japanese. Listening to realistic conversations and other situations is an effective way to improve your listening skills. You can also make use of your favorite Japanese anime and TV series.
- Practice repeatedlyBabies hear the same words and phrases over and over again and vocalize words repeatedly. Repetition is also effective in foreign language learning. Basic expressions and phrases used in daily conversation need to be practiced aloud many times. Use the expressions you have learned in real situations as many times as possible.
- Understand the culture behind the languageLanguage and culture are closely related. When learning a language, it is also important to understand the values and customs behind the culture in which it is spoken. Cultural understanding enriches communication. Social and cultural backgrounds often have a significant impact on how conversations are expressed in Japanese. Let's learn from actual situations about Japanese society and communication methods.
- Establish an environmentOptimizing the environment and stimulation is the key to learning a foreign language. Create an environment where you can actively take opportunities to speak Japanese, such as by participating in classes and communities. By communicating a lot, you will receive a lot of stimulation. By actually using the language you study, you will learn how to use it naturally.
Although the language acquisition process in babies is complex and unexplored, its elements have implications for foreign language learning. Listening a lot, learning through repetition, and understanding the culture are keys to learning a new language. Learning effectively through active exposure to real conversations and repetition of expressions is the key to success.