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Award-winning brain research expert David A. Sousa explains current research on how the brain learns language and provides strategies for teaching English language learners.

Learning the First Language(s)
Learning the first language(s)

One of the most extraordinary features of the human brain is its ability to acquire spoken language quickly and accurately. We are born with an innate capacity to distinguish the distinct sounds (phonemes) of all the languages on this planet, with no predisposition for one language over another. Eventually, we are able to associate those sounds with arbitrary written symbols to express our thoughts and emotions to others.

Other animals have developed sophisticated ways to communicate with members of their species. Birds and apes bow and wave appendages, honeybees dance to map out the location of food, and even one-celled animals can signal neighbors by emitting an array of various chemicals. The communicative systems of vervet monkeys, for instance, ...

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