How is it that children as young as three years of age are speaking in full sentences and expressing all their needs with little or no difficulty? Language systems are extremely complex, and yet, infants and toddlers are able to grasp the phonemic combinations and the grammatical rules to be able to communicate with near fluency. Professor Noam Chomsky of MIT in the 1960’s made major discoveries in the area of child language development when he proposed that language ‘was an innate property of the human species’. Infants’ brains are actually prewired for the learning of language. That is not to say that their brains are prewired with language, rather their brains are prewired for the LEARNING of language. Babies are influenced by the language that they are exposed to; their ability to learn the languages that they are exposed to, is made possible by their predisposition to decipher the complexities of language.
If a baby were placed in a room with no interactions, that baby would not come out speaking a language. On the contrary, babies who are deprived of human interaction, show significant delay in their language acquisition and in fact such deprivation has a negative impact on their brain development. In other words, the first three years of a baby’s life are critical in establishing neural pathways necessary for language and brain development, as demonstrated in the 1997 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care.
Numerous studies have shown that the effects of language stimulation and the growth of brain pathways are critical in the first three years of life. Placing a child in front of a television or a computer does not promote language development the way verbally interacting with the child enhances brain development. Likewise, an environment that exposes the child to sign language - spatial verbalizations and a language system with linguistic structure - as demonstrated in Susan Goodwyn, Ph.D. and Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.’s study found when examining children, ages 3, 4 and 8 that children who learned sign language out performed children who had not been exposed to sign language on every cognitive, linguistic and intellectual level