Can you learn a foreign language as an adult? Yes, but with much more difficulty as an infant can. Patricia Kuhl studies how we learn language as babies, looking at the ways our brains form around language acquisition. Through this she shows why the brain acquires language and why we often fail as adults in mastering a new language.

Why you should listen

Patricia Kuhl is co-director of the Institute for Brain and Learning Sciences at the University of Washington. She’s internationally recognized for her research on early language and brain development, and studies that show how young children learn.

Who is she

Kuhl’s work has played a major role in demonstrating how early exposure to language alters the brain. It has implications for critical periods in development, for bilingual education and reading readiness, for developmental disabilities involving language, and for research on computer understanding of speech.

Discussion Questions

1. What is one of the newest tolls that Kuhl shows us for examining the infants brain l earning a language?

2. At what age is there a steep decline in our ability to learn a new language?

3. What does kuhl mean by the description “culture bound listeners”?

4. Kuhl speaks about babies in the 8-10 months age range doing statistics. What does she mean by this?

5. She says that we are governed by the representations in memory that we learned early in development. Explain this to someone.

6. When a baby hears a word in her language the auditory area lights up, then parts of the area surrounding it. How does Kuhl explain this?

The linguistic Genius of Babies with Patricia Kuhl


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