Language Development in Young Children
August 23, 2010
Brain Research and its Influence on Language Development and Acquisition Language acquisition is one of the most fundamental human traits, and it is obviously the brain that undergoes the developmental changes (Sakai, 2005, p. 815-819). During the years of language acquisition, the brain not only stores linguistic information but also adapts to the grammatical regularities of language. Recent advances in functional neuro-imaging have substantially contributed to systems-level analyses of brain development (Sakai, 2005, p. 815-819). Perhaps no aspect of child development is so miraculous and transformative as the development of a child's brain (Brotherson, 2005). Brain development allows a child to develop the abilities to crawl, speak, eat, laugh and walk. Healthy development of a child's brain is built on the small moments that parents and caregivers experience as they interact with a child (Brotherson, 2005). A number of factors influence early brain development. These important factors include genetics, food and nutrition, responsiveness of parents, daily experiences, physical activity and love. In particular, parents should be aware of the importance of furnishing a healthy and nutritious diet, giving love and nurturing, providing interesting and varied everyday experiences, and giving children positive and sensitive feedback (Brotherson, 2005). In the past, some scientists thought the brain's development was determined genetically and brain growth followed a biologically predetermined path. Now we know that early experiences impact the development of the brain and influence the specific way in which the circuits (or pathways) of the brain become "wired." A baby's brain is a work in progress, the outside world shapes its development through experiences that a child's senses absorb (Brotherson, 2005). Experiences that the five senses take in help build the connections that guide brain development. Early experiences have a decisive impact on the actual architecture of the brain. Recent equipment and technological advances have allowed scientists to see the brain working (Brotherson, 2005). What scientists have found is that the brain continues to form after birth based on experiences. An infant's mind is primed for learning, but it needs early experiences to wire the neural circuits of the brain that facilitate learning (Brotherson, 2005). It has long been known that different regions of the brain have specialized functions. For example, the frontal lobes are involved in abstract reasoning and planning, while the posterior lobes are involved in vision. Until recently, it was believed that these specialized regions developed from a genetic blueprint that determined the structure and function of specific areas of the brain (Genesee, 2000). That is, particular areas of the brain were designed for processing certain kinds of information from birth. New evidence suggests that the brain is much more malleable than previously thought. Recent findings indicate that the specialized functions of specific regions of the brain are not fixed at birth but are shaped by experience and learning (Genesee, 2000). To use a computer analogy, we now think that the young brain is like a computer with incredibly sophisticated hardwiring, but no software. The software of the brain, like the software of desktop computers, harnesses the exceptional processing capacity of the brain in the service of specialized functions, like vision, smell, and language. All individuals have to acquire or develop their own software in order to harness the processing power of the brain with which they are born (Genesee, 2000). There are "windows of opportunity," or critical periods in a child's life when the brain is biologically best equipped to learn language. Each...