Language Acquisition Theory

Is there a critical period?

Critical Period for Language Acquisition

Humans are born with the innate capacity to acquire language. There is a critical period for language acquisition and this was first proposed by Eric Lenneberg (Patkowski, 2013). During this period, language comes naturally when there is communication with the child (Gheitury, Sahraee, & Hoseini, 2012). Language acquisition beings in utero and continues throughout one’s life; however, the majority of language is acquired before the age of puberty (Friedmann & Rusou, 2015). “The ability to learn a language is determined by the onset of language experience during early brain development, independent of the specific form of the experience” (Gheitury et al., 2012, p. 32). If a baby has not received adequate language input by the age of one, there are likely to be problems related to syntax later on (Friedmann & Rusou, 2015). This was found to be true in numerous studies including those done on feral children, children born deaf, children who lost their hearing, children who had their hearing restored (Friedmann & Rusou, 2015). While those studied were able to learn words after one year of age, they had difficulty with syntax (Friedmann & Rusou, 2015). Morphology and phonology are also acquired during the critical period but they come later than syntax (Gheitury et al., 2012).

An explanation of the critical period hypothesis.

09 The Sensitive Period for Language

Which Factors Positively and Negatively Affect Language Development

Negative factors that affect language development

  • not enough stimulation
  • delayed motor skills
  • lack of awareness of communication
  • ear infections/fluid in ears
  • hearing loss
  • unstable environment
  • anxiety
  • no primary language spoken in home
  • living in a home where the income is below poverty level (Rvachew, 2010)

Positive factors that affect language development

  • talking to the child
  • social interaction
  • reading to the child
  • one-on-one attention
  • preschool
  • living in a household where the income level is above poverty because children between one and three who live in homes where the parents are professionals hear three times as many words each week as those from low income families (Rvachew, 2010)

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How Can Parents Enhance Language Development?

There are many ways in which parents can enhance language development. The most important way to to talk to the child using real words and sounds. The more parents talk, the better off babies will be when it comes to learning language. Next, read to children. Parents can even read to them while they are in utero. Practice active listening and have real conversations with children. Rather than criticizing how a child talks, repeat the correct words or grammar back to him. Explore the world and talk while doing it. Explain everything! Sing songs. If ear infections are suspected, seek treatment as soon as possible. Parents should use a varied vocabulary and explain new words to children. Visit the library and take children to story time. Many libraries have craft times as well.
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Brain Regions Related to Language Development

The parts of the brain work together during language acquisition and when speaking. In most people the left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for language. In the frontal lobe is Broca's area which is the area of the brain responsible for speaking and writing (Mayfield Brain and Spine, n.d.). In the parietal lobe language and words are interpreted (Mayfield Brain and Spine, n.d.). Wernicke's area is located in the temporal lobe and is responsible for understanding language (Mayfield Brain and Spine, n.d.). Wernicke's area and Broca's area are connected by nerve fibers called the arcuate fasciculus and if this area gets damaged, conduction aphasia is the result ("Neuroscience", n.d.). This leaves the person able to understand language but not able to speak and make sense ("Neuroscience", n.d.). If Broca's area gets damaged, Broca's aphasia occurs and speech may be slurred and slow; person cannot produce speech; language is understood; cannot form words properly ("Neuroscience", n.d.). If Wernicke's area gets damaged, Wernicke's aphasia occurs and the ability to understand language is gone; speech is clear but jumbled and makes no sense ("Neuroscience", n.d.). If the parietal lobe is damaged a person may have trouble naming objects or recognizing what is seen, along with causing problems with reading and writing ("Neuroscience", n.d.).

Click here to learn more about what happens to language if certain parts of the brain are damaged.

The Brain - Language and speech, broca´s and wernicke´s area


Friedmann, N., & Rusou, D. (2015). Critical period for first language: the crucial role of language input during the first year of life.Current Opinion In Neurobiology, 35(Circuit plasticity and memory), 27-34. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2015.06.003

Gheitury, A., Sahraee, A. H., & Hoseini, M. (2012). Language Acquisition in Late Critical Period: A Case Report. Deafness And Education International, 14(3), 122-135.

Mayfield Brain & Spine. (n.d.). Brain Anatomy, Anatomy of the Human Brain. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

Neuroscience for Kids - Language. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

Patkowski, M. (2013). The critical period and parameter setting in five cases of delayed L1 acquisition. EUROSLA Yearbook, 131-21. doi:10.1075/eurosla.13.03pat

Rvachew, S. (2010, September). Language development and literacy. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from