Brain Scans Show How Toddlers Are Ready To Learn Language October 10 2013

This story genuinely excites me! As a speech and language therapist working with young children with communication difficulties I find myself 'talking about talking' all the time.

The thing about talking is that it's so transient - once you've said a word its done and dusted - you can't see it or touch it. Other professionals like doctors and midwives usually have something physical to grab onto (as it were!). A piece of the body that's not working properly, a bit that needs removing, medicating or healing.

But for me I spend all my time assessing and treating a human function that has nothing particularly concrete about it. However, the pictures from this study showing the scan pictures of the language processing areas of toddler brains gives us something to actually see.

The study shows that the toddler brain is at its most flexible and receptive (in terms of laying down brain circuits to do with language) before the age of 4. This means there may be a 'critical window' for a child learning language between the ages of 2 and 4.  Environmental factors (such as amount and type of playing and chatting parents take part in with their child) may have their biggest effect on a child's development before the age of 4. This is something that many experts and professionals in the field of early childhood research have always thought. This study may give some very visual and solid evidence to back it up.

It also helps explain why young children can soak up more than one language so easily if they are exposed to it when young. This is why one of our tips in our videos is to 'Talk in the language you feel most comfortable'. Potentially this study suggests that if parents don't use their home language with their child in the early years then they miss the window of opportunity for learning it easily and well.

The study has only been carried out on a relatively small amount of children and as Dorthy Bishop, Professor of the department of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford said:


"There is suggestive evidence of links with language development but it is too early to be confident about functional implications of the findings. Ideally we would need a longitudinal study following children over time to track how structural brain changes relate to language function."

But its an exciting glimpse into an area that could have really far reaching consequences for our children. Either way this study suggests something that Talking Tips for Kids really stands for - parents are the key to unlocking their child's communication potential.  By playing and chatting with children, even when they're in the womb and immediately from birth, parents really can give them the best start in life.

You can find out how to boost your toddler's speech and language development and skills in our videos Champion Chat & Talented Talk


Photo credit: Josh Liba / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND