University of Washington study builds upon UTSA bilingual baby research

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Baby with EEG cap

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(Aug. 30, 2011)--Research conducted at the University of Washington (UW) Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences suggests that the brains of bilingual babies remain open to learning a second language longer than the brains of monolingual babies. Furthermore, the research suggests that a baby's opportunity to learn a second language may begin to fade as early as the baby's first birthday.

The UW research is the next chapter in the Bilingual Baby Project, a collaborative language acquisition study conducted from 2005 to 2009 by neuroscientists, sociologists and educators at UW, the Bank of America Child and Adolescent Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), the UTSA Mexico Center and the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif.

UTSA researchers included Sophia Ortiz, CAPRI assistant director, Maria Rodriguez, a student research assistant, and Nicole Wicha, assistant professor of neuroscience in the Department of Biology and a member of the UTSA Neurosciences Institute.

Through home visits and neural laboratory studies, UTSA researchers found that bilingual babies demonstrated flexibility when labeling objects in one language or the other. While conducting the Bilingual Baby Project, they also found that the amount of exposure to each language, the strategies the babies' parents used to promote bilingualism in their homes and parents' desires to raise bilingual children were very important in their babies' bilingual comprehension.

The neural research conducted on monolingual and bilingual babies at UW confirms UTSA's findings and offers a more pinpointed time frame for bilingual language acquisition: one year from birth.

"Our research indicated that the early years of a child's life are an ideal time for a child to be exposed to rich language experiences," said Harriett Romo, CAPRI director. "The collaborative research conducted with the University of Washington further pinpoints key developmental stages the optimal age for language acquisition during the baby's first year."

UW researchers plan to continue the study, focusing next on how the brain aides bilingual language acquisition and school readiness.

>> Read about the study in the Aug. 17 issue of the Journal of Phonetics.