Sing to your Baby, using musical cues to boost speech segmentation in infancy

Clément François


Department of Cognition, Development and Educational Psychology, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

Cognition and Brain Plasticity Group, Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain

Attention, Perception and Acquisition of Language Lab, Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, Barcelona, Spain.


In order to build their lexicon, infants have to pick up the words that are embedded in a continuous stream of syllables. Because speech segmentation is one of the first steps of language acquisition, understanding how this cognitive process unfolds in early infancy is important for better defining the origin of later cognitive and linguistic deficits often observed in children born pre-term or in children with language learning deficits. Interestingly, while there is evidence showing that prosodic cues facilitate the segmentation process in adults and infants, little is known whether newborns could benefit from melodically enriched speech right after birth. I will present electro-physiological data collected in 2- to 4-days sleeping neonates while they were presented with both flat contour and musically enriched streams of artificial syllables. Results show that human neonates exhibit electrophysiological brain signatures of faster word segmentation for melodically enriched than for flat contour speech. Furthermore, the level of learning was also assessed with a test phase allowing the collection of brain responses reflecting the implicit detection of statistical violations. Neural signatures of successful detection of structural violations were found only in the melodically enriched but not in the flat contour condition. Taken together, these results provide direct neural evidence of the benefit of prosody in the first steps of language acquisition and suggest that music-based strategies may be a powerful tool to foster early language acquisition.