New Research suggests that babies may remember a language, even if the child never speaks it.
Language creates a pattern of neural networks after the infant learns a language. The language is then stored into the unconscious brain, retaining it years later, even if the language is never used by the child.
Researchers from McGill University’s Department of Psychology and Montreal’s Neurological Institute discovered this by performing several studies on children from the ages nine to 17 years old. One group was born and raised speaking only French. Another group spoke French and Chinese fluently. The third group came from Chinese speaking households and now speak exclusively French. One researcher pointed out the Chinese children who only spoke French were essentially “monolingual at this point.”
The children were given a tonal task (A simple differentiation of tone) while the researchers scanned the children’s brains. The researchers discovered the brains of the Chinese children that had “lost” their language and the brains of the bi-lingual children matched.
Both the Chinese children and bi-lingual children’s brains matched and both looked nothing like the brain’s of the French only speakers. Though this finding did not surprise researcher Dr. Denise Klein.
“These Templates are maintained in the brain, even though they no longer have any knowledge of Chinese.” Dr. Klein said in an interview with TIME.
This finding has led Dr. Klein to suggest children born in one linguistic community only to be uprooted and raised in another language may actually have an easier time learning their original language because the pathways have already been created.
“We haven’t tested whether children who are exposed to language early, re-learn the language more easily later,” said Dr. Klein, “But it is what we predict.”
Whatever the case, if the language is relearned the pathways already paved down for this language are mainly tones. Grammar may be just as difficult to learn as if the language were being spoken for the first time.