Linguistic Development

Before Birth

“About 3 months before birth, while still in their mother’s womb, babies start to hear. Consequently, every day of the last few months before birth, the baby can hear people speaking – this is the first step in language learning! This first step, in other words, is to learn the melody of the language.” –Source

  • “The French word for daddy is “papa” with a stress on the last syllable: papa
  • German word for daddy is “papa” with a stress on the first syllable: papa. 
  • Cry melodies of newborns follow these speech stress patterns!” –Source


Following learning the melody of a language, toddlers gradually begin to output language– initially, this is a word or two, but quickly afterwards they begin saying short sentences and then longer, more complex ones (evidence they are acquiring grammar and syntax, in addition to vocabulary). The curve is pretty exponential at a certain point, based on the data below.

If you were to graph it, it would look something like this, but the “receptive vocabulary” kind of throws it off. If graphs make more sense to you than tables, however, it does provide a pretty strong visual. Intense growth!

LINKS: The Ultimate Brain Map, What Happens to Your Brain When You Learn a New Language, How Your Brain Files Away Words, 5 Key Facts About Language and the Brain, Web Resources for Neurologists and Neurosurgeons, Adult Language Learning Literally Reworks Brain Networks, Neuroscience for Kids, Learning Language: New Insights