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Perceptive Narrowing

Perceptive Narrowing

Children lose the ability to hear the sounds that are not in their native language at around 1- year of age. That is a fact, and it is known as perceptive narrowing. I’ve been harping on this, and pointing out the implications for teaching young FL learners, for years. The reactions range from skepticism to outright denial. People just do not want to believe it.

Children lose the ability to hear non-native sounds, but the ability to perceive them can be developed. Over time, this ability becomes more and more difficult, however, so it is best to start young. And since this ability is critical to proper listening, pronunciation, and phonics, the lack of interest stupefies me.

For those interested in brain science, I recently read an article in JNeurosci, the Journal of Neuroscience. It is titled Oscillatory Dynamics Underlying Perceptual Narrowing of Native Phoneme Mapping from 6 to 12 Months of Age (below). It is fairly heavy going as it discusses “normative neural mechanisms,” but it is interesting. They did EEGs and MRI scans on 36 infants to see what was going on in their brains, while undergoing perceptive narrowing. It’s interesting.

I suppose I should add that this study, like most of the studies on infant phoneme acquisition, was not carried out for the purposes of teaching language. It was conducted to enhance our knowledge of language acquisition in the hope of one day using this knowledge to detect and perhaps treat childhood learning disorders.

Maybe I’ll write about that in my next post.

And, by the way, the method for teaching non-native sounds? That’s what b4 from aka-kara does.


Journal of Neuroscience 30 November 2016, 36 (48) 12095-12105;

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