Adoptees May Unknowingly Tap Into Memory of Birth Language Babies adopted by foreign parents who speak a different language may be better at pronouncing sounds of their birth language later in life, even if they have no recollection of those early language experiences, a new study suggests. Researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, Hanyang University in South Korea ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   May 01, 2017
Adoptees May Unknowingly Tap Into Memory of Birth Language
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Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   May 01, 2017
Adoptees May Unknowingly Tap Into Memory of Birth Language
The ASHA Leader, May 2017, Vol. 22, 12. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.22052017.12
The ASHA Leader, May 2017, Vol. 22, 12. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.22052017.12
Babies adopted by foreign parents who speak a different language may be better at pronouncing sounds of their birth language later in life, even if they have no recollection of those early language experiences, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, Hanyang University in South Korea and Western Sydney University in Australia studied Dutch-speaking Korean adoptees and a group of Dutch-native controls. They found that in reproducing Korean sounds, the adopted participants produced more identifiable and precise Korean sounds.
“Children adopted early in life into another linguistic community typically forget their birth language but retain, unaware, relevant linguistic knowledge that may facilitate (re)learning of birth-language patterns,” the study authors write in the paper, which appears in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

“Even in the very early months of life, useful language knowledge is laid down.”

Throughout a two-week training period of 13 sessions, both groups were asked to identify and reproduce three Korean consonants that have little similarity to any Dutch sounds. Korean listeners later rated all spoken productions from the experiment.
Of the 29 adoptee participants (matched with 29 Dutch-native controls), 14 were adopted at 6 months or younger (before they would have spoken), and 15 were adopted when they were 17 months or older. None of the adoptees had learned Korean after adoption. The researchers found that the entire adoptee group, across all adoption ages, was better at reproducing the Korean consonants, as rated by the Korean listeners, than the control group.
In interpreting the study results, Radboud’s Mirjam Broersma, the study’s first-listed author, posits that “even in the very early months of life, useful language knowledge is laid down, and what has been retained about the birth language is abstract knowledge about what patterns are possible, not, for instance, words.” Over the course of the training sessions, both adoptee and control groups made improvements in sound production, but the adoptees still consistently performed higher than the Dutch natives.
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May 2017
Volume 22, Issue 5