According to new findings in Psychological Science, infants born to bilingual mothers exhibit different language preferences than infants born to mothers who speak only one language. Krista Byers-Heinlein and Janet F. Werker from the University of British Columbia along with Tracey Burns of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in France investigated language preference and discrimination in newborns, testing babies with English monolingual and Tagalog-English bilingual mothers. Results of a “high-amplitude sucking-preference procedure” showed that English monolingual infants were more interested in English than Tagalog. However, bilingual infants had an equal preference for both English and Tagalog. Prenatal bilingual exposure may prepare bilingual infants to listen to and learn both of their native languages. Further testing found that infants are able to discriminate, providing a mechanism that helps ensure bilingual infants do not confuse their two languages from the first moments of life.
Byers-Heinlein, K., Burns, T.C., & Werker, J.F. (in press) The roots of bilingualism in newborns. Psychological Science.