Sensitive Period for Language

Learning a language is easiest at a young age during a window that researchers call the “sensitive period.” As people get older, language learning becomes much more difficult. This graph shows that young brains are especially responsive to learning language. The “sensitive period” for learning native language sounds is the first year of life. During this time, the infant brain becomes specialized to hear the subtle differences between the sounds of their native language. In this module, we focus on what happens next – speech production. Babies make sounds right from birth. By the time they are 3 to 4 years old, they speak in long and complex sentences. What are the different stages of speech development from birth up to about 3 to 4 years of age? On the graph, you will notice that this is the period of fastest language learning.

  • Back-and-forth or contingent interactions
    exchanges where a caregiver times her responses to a child’s behavior
    Canonical babbling
    producing the same consonant and vowel over and over, such as dadada
    Infant-directed speech
    a special tone and style of speech used to talk to young children. It’s also called parentese
    Joint attention
    shared attention between social partners to an object or event
    using a word to describe more object categories than it actually represents
    failing to extend a word to other objects in the same category
    Vocabulary spurt
    rapid growth in word learning