Children as young as six months can understand a wide number of words, scientists have claimed.

However, in a report published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, psychologists Elika Bergelson and Daniel Swingley claim that youngsters pick up words much faster than previously thought.

Traditional thinking indicated that children didn't grasp what words meant until one year of age. Yet in a study of 33 youngsters aged six to nine months, the psychologists found children could display an understanding of words - even though they can't say them.

The researchers showed the babies a cluttered screen, before asking them to focus on a specific object. Although six to nine month olds showed comprehension, it wasn't until 14 months that word recognition jumped considerably.

Dr Swingley said: "There had been a few demonstrations of understanding before, involving words like mommy and daddy.

"Our study is different in looking at more generic words, words that refer to categories.

"I think this study presents a great message to parents: You can talk to your babies and they're going to understand a bit of what you're saying.

"They're not going to give us back witty repartee, but they understand some of it. And the more they know, the more they can build on what they know."

Posted by Robert Mair on 14/2/2012