My new hero: Dr. Patricia Kuhl

I’m back from ALA, and it was a wonderful conference. Everything I went to that was sponsored by ALSC was beautifully organized and thoughtfully designed. I loved it all.

My very favorite thing was at 8 am the morning after the late-night Newbery Caldecott Banquet, and it was so worth getting up for. The Charlamae Rollins Lecturer this year was Dr. Patricia Kuhl, whose work on language development and the brain in babies is fascinating and really, really important. Here, with apologies for anything I am oversimplifying or am not quoting correctly, are some of the key points she made:

*Babies are all about social interaction and soaking up sounds of languages, but the window for laying down the neural pathways for perceiving sounds that aren’t used in their own language is very small–by 12 months, babies that previously could pick out sounds from another language stop being able to do that if it wasn’t kept up.

*Adults around the world, male and female,  talk to babies in that sing-songy voice.

*According to the tests they’ve done, babies appear to be very engaged in watching baby-oriented DVDs, but no learning is happening–the brains aren’t soaking it up even though they LOOK like they are.

*Every hour of DVD watching for a baby equates to five fewer words learned.

*Parents in lower socio-econonomic groups tend to speak in a very blunt, directive way to their children: Do this. Don’t do that. That’s why it’s important to get books in the hands of those parents to use with their babies, so they’re being exposed to the rich language they need to be learning.

The thing she mentioned that set the whole room buzzing was this: Most babies prefer people to talk to them. They like the sound of people using words. One group prefers the same frequency as speech but without the speech sounds–autistic babies. They can predict from six months the likelihood of a child being autistic from this. Obviously this has huge implications for early intervention.

Here’s a link with a little more info about her work, which I am not beginning to do justice: http://www.king5.com/on-tv/KING-5–94930854.html

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One Response to My new hero: Dr. Patricia Kuhl

  1. Robin says:

    Thank you so much for this, Susan. I could not attend her talk and am so interested in her research and knowledge. It was great to wave my hand at you for three seconds–perhaps we can actually meet for coffee, or agree to sit next to each other in San Diego.

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