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New
research has demonstrated that early language learning in children can be
retained at a subconscious level, even when there is no memory of this learning
experience.

 

This
means that infants can obtain knowledge about the language they hear during the
first weeks of life.

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In
a collaborative study lead by Jiyoun Choi of Hanyang Univeristy, Anne Cutler
from the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language and Mirijam
Broersma of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, have demonstrated
that babies begin storing and learning speech sounds much earlier than formerly
known.

 

The
study investigated the learning abilities of international adoptees decades
following their adoption. The experiment utilized 29 Korean-born Dutch
speakers, and a control group of 29 native Dutch-speakers in a twelve-day training
period. Throughout this training period, participants were asked to identify
three Korean consonants, ambiguous in the Dutch language, and then to try and replicate
them. All of the production attempts were collected, and rated by native Korean
speakers.

 

Prior
to training, both groups performed at a similar level, however, following
training, the international adoptees far surpassed native Dutch-speakers. This
was found even when Korean adoptees were only a few months old (prior to speech
production) when adopted.

 

Most
surprisingly, there was no difference in performance between Korean-born Dutch
speakers who were adopted under the age of six-months – before they could speak
– and those adopted after seventeen months, when they could speak.

 

 This suggests that early language knowledge is
retained and abstract in nature, rather than dependent on the amount of
experience. 

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