“Babies Read Lips Before They Can Speak, Study Shows,” Lauran Neergaard and CBS News Staff,, 1/17/12.

On the first birthday of one of my Stellar Caterpillars, the father asked me, “She walks so beautifully!  Now I can’t wait for her to talk.  Do you think you can teach her to talk?  I answered, “I can show you how to teach her to talk.”  Learning to talk can be broken down into micro-skills they way movement can be broken down into mini-milestones.  Recently a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz of Florida Atlantic University confirms that babies learn to speak not just by hearing sounds but also by reading lips.


The moving body parts involved in the action of talking include the lips, tongue and jaw.  The lips create the shapes of the mouth that help make the different sounds in speaking.  The jaw opens and closes in this process.  The tongue moves around inside the mouth to different locations which assists in creating the various sounds we make as well.  The intricate coordination of these three body parts create the “movement” of talking.


The study led by Lewkowicz involved 180 babies at ages 4, 6, 8, and 10 months.  Researchers observed babies changing focus on a woman speaking on video in their native language of English and their non-native language of Spanish.  The babies’ shifting focus from the lips to the eyes was closely monitored by a gadget placed on a headband.

The researchers found a pattern demonstrating dramatic shift in attention based on the babies’ ages.  The 4-month-olds gazed mostly into the eyes, the 6-month-olds spent equal amounts of time looking at the eyes and the mouth,  the 8- and 10-month-olds studied mostly the mouth, and at 12 months attention started shifting back toward the speaker’s eyes.  When the babies observed the non-native language being spoken, it was necessary to focus on the lips for longer periods of time in order to gain extra information to process the unfamiliar sounds.


The research study led by Lewkowicz is very important because it teaches us the importance of “face-to-face” interaction with  baby.  Face-to-face interaction can be defined as time when a parent or caregiver puts his or her face quite close (less than 12 inches) to baby and exaggerates words with his or her lips.  The words should not be spoken too quickly as babies need time to see what you are doing with your mouth.  This visual observation of the moving parts involved in speaking is called “lip reading.”  It is the involvement baby’s sense of sight in learning to speak.

Try some face-to-face time with baby while singing a favorite song or repeating one word a few times and exaggerating it with your lips.  Don’t be surprised when she reaches out to touch your lips or stick her hand into your mouth.  They want to know how you are making those sounds. Next, she will try and imitate you.  She will be talking soon!




  1. Quality tips! Many thanks!

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