A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Developmental Neuroscience suggests that infants and young children may not fully understand language until they are three to six months old.
The study, led by neuroscientists at the University of Bristol, was designed to explore whether the development of speech and language is affected by the time it takes for a baby to speak.
The researchers measured the development and learning of the brain’s primary motor cortex, the primary motor area that controls movement, while also measuring brain activity during speech and listening to a speech recording.
They found that at around six months, infants and children were still learning to understand language, but not quite to the point of understanding spoken words, as early as six months of age.
This is the first study to show that this learning period, which occurs in the very early years, does not end when the child is six months.
The new findings could have important implications for the development, diagnosis and treatment of language disorders in infants and youth.
“It is important to note that this is the very first study showing that children and adolescents at this age have not yet learned to speak and understand speech,” said the lead researcher, Professor James Barton, from the Department of Cognitive Neuroscience at Bristol’s School of Psychology.
“This is a major first step towards understanding language development and language acquisition in babies and children.
This is the beginning of a new generation of research in this area.”
The study found that infants who were three to four months old showed a strong ability to grasp spoken words and speech.
These infants showed a similar pattern of brain activation to children who were five to seven months old, when they were still working to acquire their first words and sentences.
“We have been trying to understand how speech and speech learning work for more than 30 years,” said Professor Barton.
We need to understand the structure of these brain circuits and the way that they connect together.””
To try and get the neural response that we want to get, we need to look at how this activity is associated with speech and other non-verbal behaviours.
We need to understand the structure of these brain circuits and the way that they connect together.”
What the research revealed was that babies and young people are already able to recognise words and phrases that they have learnt, even though they are not fully able to read them.
“There is a difference between the adult brains and the babies’ brains,” said Barton.
“In adults, we know that words are spoken to communicate information, and this is what infants and youngsters can do with their non-cognitive abilities.”
But we don’t know how babies and younger children learn these words and their meaning, so it is crucial that we understand how they learn to read language.
Our findings are very important, because it shows that the brain does not just get to know a language. “
They showed a very high level of activation in the frontal cortex, which is involved in language, whereas in the other regions, such as the brainstem and motor cortex that control movement, there was no significant activation,” he said.
“Our findings are very important, because it shows that the brain does not just get to know a language.
We show that young infants show higher activity in the cerebellum, the part of the central nervous system that regulates movement, whereas older infants show much less activity in that area.””
We also show that there is a distinct difference between young infants and older infants.
We show that young infants show higher activity in the cerebellum, the part of the central nervous system that regulates movement, whereas older infants show much less activity in that area.”
This suggests that the activity of the cerebrum is the key to language, while the activity in other areas is the primary brain regulator of language.
The new research suggests that babies are still learning language in their early years and the age at which their language skills will be most fully developed.
“These findings will have important consequences for understanding how to identify early language problems and how to improve language development in early childhood,” said Prof Barton.
Babies and young persons are currently being taught to read and write in a variety of ways by the world’s biggest and best-funded language schools, but it remains to be seen how this new research will influence their ability to read, speak and learn languages.