The Linguistic Genius of Babies

Patricia Kuhl, a professor from the University of Washington, and her colleages have shown that every person has a critical period of time when his or her brain can assimilate new languages very well.  It is known that children up to seven years of age have the greatest capacity to learn a new language.  The research of Patricia Kuhl identified that infants have an innate ability to discriminate the sounds of all languages of the world, regardless of what country they were born and of what language  their relatives speak.

The scientists studied the brain by magnetoencephalography and observed the reaction of the brain to spoken sounds.  The researchers revealed that six to eight-month old babies listening to how surrounding people speak collect statistics on the sounds they need to know.  It is interesting that children can get such sound information only from other speaking humans but not through television or audio set.   Hearing sounds change babies’ brain.  We can assume that neuron connections that are responsible for the most frequently heard sound distribution of the mother tongue eventually become more powerful.  The formation of the brain for a perception of a particular language occurs during the first year of life.  Babies get receptive to certain set of sounds.  We can assume that corresponding neuron patterns are strengthened and children can perceive only native speech as they grow older because they have started to perceive this language more easily.  Consequently, children turn into the language-bound listeners.

A baby can perceive and collect several statistics of linguistic distributions and store them in his or her brain.  In this case, a baby will be able to perceive more than one language.  Today, scientists continue to study the brain of infants and hope that they will discover the secret of how to help keep our own minds open to language learning for our entire lives.

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Svetlana Stroganova, Nikolai Shmelev


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