In this video, linguist Patricia Kuhl discusses the transformation that happens between 8 and 10 months of age as infants learn to “take statistics” from the language they’re exposed to. Infants, she explains, are different from adults. “We’re culture-bound listeners,” but a 6-8 month old baby can discriminate any sound in any language.
Dr. Kuhl also discusses new brain imaging techniques, and results of new experiments where 6-8 month old American children of English-speaking parents are exposed to Mandarin under three different conditions (1) only through human contact, (2) only through audio stimuli, and (3) through television. “So what have we done to their little brains?” she asks. “The social brain is controlling when these babies take these statistics.” Those who are in contact with human speakers learn the new sounds; the other groups pattern like children who have had no exposure to the new language at all.