Mozart effect (part 4)
A typical case occurred with a patient of the North Italian hospital. Patient E. all her 68 years of life spoke her native North Italian Veronese dialect, very different from the standard Italian — her second language, which she studied at school, but almost never used. As a result of a stroke, the patient was speechless and for two weeks did not say a word.
Then the power of speech returned to her. There seemed to be a complete recovery. But those who came to visit her relatives were amazed that she answered them in her second, half-forgotten, standard Italian. In her native Veronese dialect, which she spoke every day of her life, she could not utter a single phrase, although she understood those who spoke to her. It was as if after the disease had “erased” the part of the brain where the native, Veronese dialect was “recorded”, some other part of the brain that had returned to memory a long-forgotten second language came into operation.
This and similar cases have given scientists reason to believe that native and learned languages are stored in different parts of the brain. At the same time, for truly bilingual people who began to speak two languages at the same time in childhood, the scheme of their storage in memory is different from the storage of languages for those people who began to learn the language at the age of ten years.
The researchers suggest that the foundations of the organization of these schemes are laid in children very early, even before they begin to speak. By studying what happens in the brain, scientists hope to explain why children learn language so much better than adults. And maybe find a way to overcome this limitation.
Children can perceive any language because they distinguish any sounds. A newborn child has unlimited potential for language perception. Children can learn any language spoken to them and, unlike adults, distinguish any sounds. Thus, a six-month-old Japanese child clearly hears the difference between the sounds of “R” and “l”, while adults do not distinguish these sounds. And the sounds that the child hears regularly, somehow fixed in memory, and the rest — are erased.
Maria Cheor from the Department of cognitive brain research at the University of Helsinki received the first neurophysiological evidence that neural pathways for the perception of sounds specific to each language are laid at the age of one year.
It measured the activity of the auditory cortex with electrodes applied to the skull. In the six-month-old child on the phonogram clearly distinguished all the sounds, while the one-year-old some differences were erased and perceived only sounds characteristic of the language he heard around him, that is, his native language.
This observation shows that the early period (and even, as we can see, not up to three years, but up to one year) is indeed critical for the perception of language, especially its phonetic structures, which constitute the main stage in language learning.
In short, after reaching the age of ten, you will never speak a new language as well as your native one. This rule, however, is not absolute. After all, we know adults who are fluent in foreign languages and even speak without an accent.
Now it is enough to conclude that, as the latest experiments show, language — as well as some visual — abilities of a person are really formed in a “critical” period of early childhood.
But from this to the “myth of the first three years”, as rightly argues John brewer, the distance is huge.