How do babies learn new languages? Astonishing new findings

In this TED video, Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.

Why do babies pick up language easily? There is widespread acceptance amongst the language learning community

that children pick up languages easily. How they do this is not as well understood.

According to Kuhl, cheap car insurance quotes babies are listening intently to us, they are “taking statistics” depending on how adults talk. In this video, she gives some examples of Japanese and American babies learning their native language.

In English, babies use a lot of RA and LA. But the Japanese do not, so the study shows that though both Japanese and American babies respond early on to the same RA and LA sounds, but somehow as the babies grow older the American babies respond better to RA and LA, but the Japanese babies deteriorate ie. what sounds babies are exposed to matter.

Bilingual babies have to keep two sets of “statistics”. Do they get confused?

Kuhl tested sets of American vs Taiwanese babies at 6-8 months vs 10-12 months

The experiment exposed American babies to Mandarin sounds at these time intervals. American babies exposed to a Mandarin speaker over 12 sessions have equivalent respoonses to those living in Taiwan. This is an amazing finding.

Kuhl then tried to replicate this with audio and TV/video.  If the baby is exposed to audio alone or TV/video alone, babies do not absorb the “statistics”. Only human interaction matters. This has enormous implications for parents

who spend thousands of dollars buying video/audio packs for babies in French, Spanish, Mandarin etc.

Kuhl closed her lecture with some food for thought.

In investigating the child’s brain, we will discover deep truths about what it means to be human. And in the process we may be able to help keep our own minds open to learning for our entire lives.

Watch the video. Highly recommended for everyone, not just parents with kids.

Posted via email from Euroasia

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About The Author

Kenneth is Director of Euroasia. He is passionate about languages and cultures.

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