A research study of newborns revealed that humans are born with the innate skills necessary to choose words from the language.
The international team of researchers discovered two mechanisms in 3-day-old infants, giving them the ability to choose words in a stream of sounds.
The breakthrough provides a key insight into a first step in language learning.
The study, published in Development Sciencesis a collaboration between SISSA scientists in Italy, the Neurospin Center in France, the University of Liverpool and the University of Manchester. It was funded by the European Research Council.
One of the mechanisms discovered by the team is known as prosody – the melody of language, which allows us to recognize when a word begins and ends.
And another, they call the statistic language, which describes how we calculate the frequency of when the sounds of a word come together.
Dr. Alissa Ferry of the University of Manchester said: "We think this study highlights how sentient newborn babies really are and how much information they are absorbing.
"This is very important for new parents and gives them some tips on how the baby hears them."
Dr. Ana Flò of Neurospin said, "Language is incredibly complicated and this study is about understanding how children try to understand when they first hear.
"We often think that language is made up of words, but words often get confused when we speak, so one of the first steps in learning the language is choosing words.
"Our study shows that with only 3 days of life, without understanding what this means, they are able to choose individual words of speech.
"And we have identified two important tools with which we are almost certainly born, which gives them the ability to do this."
The researchers touched the babies a 3 1/2-minute audio clip, in which four nonsense words were buried in a stream of syllables.
Using a painless technique called Near Infrared Spectroscopy, which illuminates the brain, they were able to measure how much was absorbed, informing which parts of the brain were active.
Dr. Perrine Brusini of the University of Liverpool noted, "We then asked the babies to listen to individual words and find that their brains responded differently to the words they heard than to slightly different words.
"This has shown that even born babies can choose individual words of language.