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July 21, 2009

Research emphasizes the importance of starting to learn a language between birth and 7

kuhl_001_150x200.jpgResearch indicates that the better we get at one language the more difficult it becomes to learn a second one because the brain tunes out sounds that do not fit the dominant language's template. However, children who start to learn two languages from a very young age can switch between two language templates and learn two languages in the same time it tales a monolingual child to learn one language.

Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington says that babies are born with the ability to distinguish all sounds, but the ability starts to weaken even before before they start talking. For example, the Japanese language 'does not distinguish between the "L" and "R" sounds of English — "rake" and "lake" would sound the same. Her team proved that 'a 7-month-old in Tokyo and a 7-month-old in Seattle respond equally well to those different sounds. But by 11 months, the Japanese infant had lost a lot of that ability. '

Research also indicates that it is best to start learning a new language between birth and seven years old. The ability to learn a new language declines sharply after puberty. Kuhl says, 'We're seeing the brain as more plastic and ready to create new circuits before than after puberty.' As an adult, 'it's a totally different process. You won't learn it in the same way. You won't become (as good as) a native speaker.'

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