Age-related sensitive periods influence visual language discrimination in adults

Whitney M. Weikum, Athena Vouloumanos, Jordi Navarra, Salvador Soto-Faraco, Núria Sebastián-Gallés, Janet F. Werker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Adults as well as infants have the capacity to discriminate languages based on visual speech alone. Here, we investigated whether adults' ability to discriminate languages based on visual speech cues is influenced by the age of language acquisition. Adult participants who had all learned English (as a first or second language) but did not speak French were shown faces of bilingual (French/English) speakers silently reciting sentences in either language. Using only visual speech information, adults who had learned English from birth or as a second language before the age of 6 could discriminate between French and English significantly better than chance. However, adults who had learned English as a second language after age 6 failed to discriminate these two languages, suggesting that early childhood exposure is crucial for using relevant visual speech information to separate languages visually. These findings raise the possibility that lowered sensitivity to non-native visual speech cues may contribute to the difficulties encountered when learning a new language in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number86
JournalFrontiers in Systems Neuroscience
Volume7
Issue numberNOV
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 13 2013

Keywords

  • Adults
  • Age of acquisition
  • Language discrimination
  • Sensitive period
  • Visual speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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