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Language Acquisition and Brain Development in Children


The connection between brain development and the acquisition of language is the subject of numerous debates throughout the history of scientific thought. Particularly, since the beginning of the 20th century, the discussion about this connection became more profound and diverse because significant discoveries have been made in this period. Therefore, scientists and scholars became more capable of investigating how language shapes the development of the brain. However, to this day the discussion is far from being complete since numerous aspects of neural mechanisms, which are responsible for learning languages, are not studied enough. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to give an overview of the recent academic literature on the topic in order to understand how contemporary scholars perceive the issues related to language acquisition and brain development.

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Brain Development and Exposure to Language

It could be hardly doubted that childhood, as well as adolescence, are the most important periods in terms of the overall development of the human organism, concerning both physical and psychological development. This statement, to a great extent, relates to the process of language learning since the majority of scholars agree that at the early stages of life, people are more capable of acquiring new information, and thus form new neural patterns. However, the particular aspects of this learning process are not always studied by researchers from the perspective of neuroscience and the article by Romeo et al. (2018) is a significant example of such research.

Based on the sample of 36 children from different socioeconomic status groups aged 4 to 6 years, the authors employed the method of magnetic resonance tomography (MRI) in order to investigate how the participants will react to the listening task. This study is highly important since it is the first research that empirically proves the existence of “the neural activation patterns underlying the relation between children’s early language exposure and verbal skills” (Romeo et al., 2018, p. 8). The researchers emphasize the importance of active communication between children and adults because, according to the results of the study, such communication plays a highly significant role in the process of brain development (Romeo et al., 2018). Children who had more conversational experience with their parents showed greater activation in left inferior frontal regions (Romeo et al., 2018). Thus, it is apparent that there is scientific evidence of the connection between the development of neural mechanisms and exposure to language and communication.

The Concept of Bilingualism and Its Impact on the Brain Development

In addition to the facts identified in the previous section, it is highly important to investigate the concept of bilingualism and the age of language acquisition in their connection with brain development. The article by Berken, Gracco, and Klein (2017) explores these ideas, focusing on the question of the particular ages in which language acquisition is more efficient. The authors employ the method of task-based and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study “differences in brain structure and function between simultaneous and sequential bilingual” (Berken et al., 2017, p. 220). Berken et al. (2017) argue that brain development is largely determined by “a series of nested optimal periods of variable onset, offset, and duration that are influenced by both pre-programmed molecular signals and sensory experience” (p. 225). It is also noted that brain stimulation induced by the bilingual environment that occurs on the microscopic level during the prenatal period, can significantly affect the child’s language learning ability (Berken et al., 2017).

However, the most important conclusion that could be retrieved from the study by Berken et al. (2017) is that simultaneous acquisition of two languages in the early stages of life stimulates the brain development to an immense extent. A different conclusion is developed by Klein, Mok, Chen, and Watkins (2014). Klein et al. (2014) state that simultaneous bilingualism has no significant impact on the brain development; however, acquisition of the second language when the proficiency in the native language is reached could be very stimulating for the brain (Klein et al., 2014).

Socioeconomic Factors that Shape the Brain Development

Another aspect of the topic under discussion that is worth mentioning is the influence of socioeconomic factors on brain development. The article by Hair, Hanson, Wolfe, and Pollak (2015) investigates this question, with particular attention to the impact of the social environment of children’s academic performance and language proficiency. It is concluded by the authors that exposure to poverty has a significant impact on the development of the temporal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for language acquisition and use. It is also appropriate to mention the study by Romeo et al. (2018), in which the authors, along with the investigation of the neural mechanisms related to language acquisition, explore how socioeconomic status influences the language capacities of children.


In conclusion, it should be stated that the question of the connection between brain development and language acquisition is evidently presented in the recent academic literature. This paper exemplifies several topics that are currently being elaborated by scholars. Overall, it is possible to observe that significant progress is made in the identified area of concern.

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Berken, J. A., Gracco, V. L., & Klein, D. (2017). Early bilingualism, language attainment, and brain development. Neuropsychologia, 98, 220-227, Web.

Hair, N. L., Hanson, J. L., Wolfe, B. L., & Pollak, S. D. (2015). Association of child poverty, brain development, and academic achievement. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(9), 822-829, Web.

Klein, D., Mok, K., Chen, J. K., & Watkins, K. E. (2014). Age of language learning shapes brain structure: A cortical thickness study of bilingual and monolingual individuals. Brain and Language, 131, 20-24, Web.

Romeo, R. R., Leonard, J. A., Robinson, S. T., West, M. R., Mackey, A. P., Rowe, M. L., & Gabrieli, J. D. (2018). Beyond the 30-million-word gap: Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function. Psychological Science, 29(5), 700-710, Web.

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