The Linguistic Genius of Babies

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Patricia Kuhl is a name I first heard about when I read the book Brain Rules for Baby. She was referenced when author John Medina shared some of the findings from her amazing research on how children learn language.

Brain Rules - Linguistic Genius

On the Linguistic Genius of Babies

Based on Kuhl’s research, if you want to teach your child a second language, you have to start in your baby’s first year of life. Beyond that first year, your child will have lost the ability to discern sounds from languages other than those that he is exposed to on a regular basis. This is because children take statistics on the linguistic sounds that they commonly hear and pay attention only to those sounds. Because of their ability to learn any language in that first year of life, Kuhl calls babies “citizens of the world”. Once past their first year, they become like the rest of us. No wonder Gavin speaks like a “gwai loh” despite being exposed to Mandarin at school – it was simply a case of too little, too late.

Another thing that Kuhl also discovered with her research was that children can only learn languages from a live person. They cannot learn from a TV or radio because of the social nature of babies. So if you want your baby to learn a second language, playing recordings or even DVDs won’t cut it. You need a real live person speaking to your baby.

Kuhl also mentions the critical period of learning in the first seven years of life (as does Maria Montessori, Glenn Doman, Shichida, etc.). Once we’re past our teenage years, it’s all downhill. This is all the more reason to focus on early childhood education. It’s not just a case of kiasu-ness (read: being competitive because you’re afraid of losing out), it’s about having your child’s best interests at heart.

Kuhl has a very interesting talk on TED which I thought was worth watching. Have a look at it below:

Bilingual Brain May Start to Fade by Age 1

Learning a second language is second nature to babies, but new research finds the ability may begin to fade as early as the first birthday.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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