Learning Russian in the Womb

Tuesday, 26 Feb 2013 03:44 PM

By Lev Navrozov

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I recently saw an article posted on a website and couldn’t agree more with the author’s premise as some states — including my home state of New York — consider relaxing the laws with respect to late-term abortions.

The article was about the surprising amount of learning that takes place in the womb.

I was preoccupied with this subject for years —most probably since the birth of our grandchild.

Eighteen years ago we received a phone call from our son, who lived in London. We knew he and his wife were expecting a baby, and that was why he called — to tell us he had taken his wife to the hospital.

He said that if we wanted to welcome our grandchild, we would have to fly to London right away.

And so we did.

We stayed at a hotel close to the hospital, where all night we anxiously waited for a call from our son. The call came around 3 a.m.: “You have a grandson!”

And my wife, who always wanted to have a grandson just as much as she had wanted to have a son, said God had worked another miracle.

And there we were — at the hospital, all of us —a proud grandmother and grandfather. I am now looking at the photograph: my wife holding her treasure in the first hours after his birth, wrapped in a Russian cashmere shawl (Orenburgskiy platok) that our American daughter-in-law so lovingly put around her newborn.

“Do you think he will understand Russian?” we wondered. “Don’t make me laugh,” was our son’s answer. “For months I spoke to him while he was still in his mother’s womb. I read Russian fairytales to him. I talked to him in Russian, sang Russian songs to him . . . He will remember all of this!”

And the boy did. His American mother, a Cambridge graduate, helped to recreate a genuine Russian world for him with Russian nannies, Russian toys, Russian books, Russian piano teachers.

All of that took place years ago. Our grandchild will be 19 this year.

His Russian is impeccable, undistinguishable from that of a native speaker. He is now in his first year at Oxford.

He is also fluent in several languages: he speaks English with his mother and his American grandmother and grandfather, Russian with his father, me, and his Russian grandmother.

He speaks Italian, French, and some German. He loves classical music. He reads Latin and Greek texts. He likes languages, but does not rule out other interests in the future.

The message of my piece here is that the time our grandson “spent” in his mother’s womb was not wasted.

To prove this, here are several studies, published early this year, which confirm that newborns are much more than eating and sleeping machines.

“At birth they are primed and ready for social input,” according to one such study. “Decades ago, people assumed that newborn babies were empty-headed passive lumps . . . that babies didn’t really have minds — not yet — and they certainly didn’t respond to social stimuli. Today we know differently. It appears that babies are born with remarkable social capacities that help them identify voices and faces, communicate, and develop an understanding of other minds . . . So neonates aren’t blank slates, and the people who care for them are more than diaper-changers.”

According to “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child” by Andreas Moritz, “Now we know that childhood experiences are not the only factors that can determine our destiny. A child’s life does not begin with his birth. Since we cannot see the infant before he is born (except through ultrasound machines), it doesn’t mean he has no links to the outside world. Although the unborn child lives in a world of his own, he is still influenced by everything that happens around him, especially the thoughts, feelings and actions of his parents.

"Research has shown that a fetus can lead an active emotional life from the six months, if not earlier. He is able to feel and can even see, hear, taste, experience and learn while in the womb. The feelings that he has during his stay in his mother’s womb depend largely on how he deals with the messages that he receives mostly from the mother, the father, and the environment.”

Moreover: “There is strong evidence that a father who bonds with his child while he is still in the womb can make a strong emotional difference to his well-being. A newborn baby can recognize his father’s voice in the first one or two hours after birth and respond to it emotionally, provided the father had been talking to the child during the pregnancy. The soothing, familiar tone of his voice, for example, is able to stop the child from crying, indicating that he feels protected and safe.”

Indeed, during our next visit to London, for our grandson’s first birthday — when he was teething and the pain was unbearable and his suffering was so intense that nothing and none of us could soothe him — his mother said that our son was a calming force. She took the baby upstairs to our son’s study. The moment his father took him in his arms, the boy quieted down, stopped crying, and happily went to sleep. Wasn’t that a miracle?

Perhaps I am getting sentimental as I look through early photographs of our grandson — who at the time could barely sit straight in his father’s lap — but I cannot help but wonder if we are treading in an area that man should not be treading in with respect to late-term abortions.

If someone can get a head start on the difficult Russian language while still in the womb, what else might they understand — or feel?

Lev Navrozov is a journalist, author, and columnist who is a winner of the Albert Einstein Prize for outstanding intellectual achievements. He can be reached at levnavrozov@gmail.com. Read more reports from Lev — Click Here Now.

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