I find talks from the TED site fascinating. I picked up the this video via Laura Doggett's blog, http://lauradoggett.com/, a really useful site for anyone interested in all things techie and MFL. Anyone who gets companies to give them expensive kit to review has my respect!
So this video is from Patricia Kuhl and is entitled "The Linguistic Genius of Babies".
What strikes me here is that there is an emotional context to language learning that helps the baby filter out extraneous sound and home in on the sound patterns that bring a reward in terms of making human connections.
In my work with music and language learning, my theory is that music and song are excellent vehicles for connecting emotion to language acquisition, and it was interesting to see the role of human and emotional connection highlighted here.
What is also fascinating to see is that as we get older we 'retreat' and become 'enclosed' within our own cultural and linguistic systems. It becomes increasingly harder to break out of them simply because I think we have a memory bank that is filling up, even clogging up with stored responses to inputs. It's a hard-drive in need of a de-frag to free up space.
I suppose I see music, song and rhythm as kind of de-frag software for language learning. They 'slide' new language into children's brains, flying under the radar of their stored responses. They help penetrate into parts of their consciousness where new information can be retained without having to pass through all of the border controls of stored cultural and linguistic filtering.
So, the younger the child, the more uncluttered the memory bank, the more receptive to new input. The older we get, the slower we are to assimilate new sounds and structures that do not match those already in our memory bank.
In the push to promote Primary Languages in the UK, one of the strains on the initiative is that though children can very easily pick up new language, the teachers who have to be re-trained to teach them find it much harder to re-learn.
The real difficulty lies less in acquiring the lexical and grammatical syntax of the language but in being able to 'tune' into the different sounds and mimic them. Prounuciation is a key issue. Fear of sounding inauthentic is a serious inhibtor in Primary MFL teachers.
Here again I believe, but can't prove, that on teacher language re-training programmes, re-learning a language with a significant input from music, rhythm and song might help. Someone somewhere ought to research an initiative to examine whether this is true. Could a program be devised where this is an integral rather than a peripheral part of it?