One year olds learn languages faster than adults
The anatomy of certain brain areas, especially the hippocampus and cerebellum, can predict children's language abilities when they are a year old, brain-scans of infants have shown.
The cerebellum is typically linked to motor learning or picking up new skills while the hippocampus is commonly recognised as a memory processor, according to new research.
The study by University of Washington is the first to identify a relationship between language and the cerebellum and hippocampus in infants.
"The brain of the baby holds an infinite number of secrets just waiting to be uncovered, and these discoveries will show us why infants learn languages like sponges, far surpassing our skills as adults," said co-researcher Patricia Kuhl in a statement.
Children's language skills soar after they reach their first birthdays, but little is known about how infants' early brain development seeds that path.
Identifying which brain areas are related to early language learning could provide a first glimpse of development going awry, allowing for treatments to begin earlier.
"Infancy may be the most important phase of postnatal brain development in humans," said Dilara Deniz Can, lead researcher of the study.
"Our results showing brain structures linked to later language ability in typically developing infants is a first step toward examining links to brain and behaviour in young children with linguistic, psychological and social delays," said Deniz Can
Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the brain structure of a mix of 19 boys and girls at 7 months of age. Thy used a measurement called voxel-based morphometry to determine the concentration of gray matter, consisting of nerve cells, and of white matter, which make up the network of connections throughout the brain.
Five months later, when the children were about 1 year old they returned to the lab for a language test. This test included measures of the children's babbling, recognition of familiar names and words, and their ability to produce different types of sounds.