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Babies Learn to Speak

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Some theorists believe infants enter the world with “hard-wired” neurons that are preadapted for both understanding and producing speech. Others believe that speech is learned through experience. Now research reveals how a baby’s speech centers function at five days old, then six months, then a year.

Neuroscientist Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington, working with colleagues at the University of Helsinki in Finland, used a new technique, magnetoencephalography (MEG), to measure brain activity by sensing the magnetic fields neurons create when they fire. The results lend empirical evidence to the notion that speech is indeed learned.

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