A baby’s “window of opportunity” for language mastery is between 6 and 8 months old. A baby learns language best when there is social interaction (an engaged adult speaking with the baby) more so than when the baby listens to a language tape or watches a video of someone teaching that language. Cognitive processes such as visual word recognition are modular and cue other modules in the brain.
During the 2013 Emergenetics Brain Summit, I learnt these and more at during Dr. Mary Case’s excellent and insightful sharing of the recent discoveries of brain science – thanks to MEG (Magnetoencephalography), which captures brain activity in milliseconds, so pretty much “real time”.
At her session, Mary presented some recent findings and highlighted some useful observations:
- The brain learns languages by learning to perceive language specific formants
- Human babies learn language best from engaged adults
- This auditory knowledge has been measured and formulated into a biomarker – and the number of auditory formants mastered at 7.5 months is statistically predictable for the number of vocabulary words mastered at 2 years
- Multilingual brains are capable of better task switching and attention ability
- Learning theory – there is a gate theory now that says that when you have engaged adults speaking to babies and it is within window of opportunity before 1 year, it opens up to learning of all sorts of things as well.
I’m reflecting on how we learned language when we were young, and how the community of synapses in our brains developed over time through our exposure and experience to life and the adults in our early life. I also thought about those of us who come from multi-lingual families and environments, and how we acquired languages. Perhaps we did some things right, and we may want to think about how we shape learning in the future.
And oh, remember how adults tend to use ‘baby talk’ with the little ones? That’s actually good for the baby’s language learning because we use higher pitches and slower pace – apparently both are helpful.
MARY CASE, M.D.
EMERGENETICS STAFF NEUROSCIENTIST
Mary Case, MD, is a board certified anatomic and clinical pathologist with subspecialty training in neuropathology.
Mary has a lifelong interest in the human brain – how it is built, how it works and how it reaches its highest potential. She has been connected to Emergenetics for three decades, first as a skeptical scientist, and later as an informal contributor, Advanced Associate and active consultant.
Mary practiced medicine in Nebraska and Washington State. She has lectured on a spectrum of scientific topics from basic brain anatomy and physiology to Near Death Experience to a wide age range of science students. Favorite past projects include managing a hospital laboratory IT conversion and staffing a statewide Pediatric Palliative Care Project under a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant.