Study: Children’s Brains Process Language Differently from Adults

Category: Education/Family


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. hemisphere / ˈhɛm ɪˌsfɪər / (n) – one half of something round

    Japan is in the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth.

  2. impairment / ɪmˈpɛər mənt / (n) – a condition where something is not functioning or working properly

    Looking directly at the sun for a long time can cause visual impairment.

  3. salvage / ˈsæl vɪdʒ / (v) – to save something important

    I don’t think the celebrity can do anything to salvage his reputation.

  4. recuperate / rɪˈku pəˌreɪt / (v) – to recover from a disease or illness

    It took him months to recuperate from the effects of the heart attack.

  5. compensate / ˈkɒm pənˌseɪt / (v) – to make up for a weakness

    Her left eye is weak, so her right eye has to compensate for it.


Read the text below.

A recent study has found that children use both the left and right hemispheres of their brains to understand language.

Previous studies have shown that nearly all adults process language in the left side of their brain and that damage to this region usually results in language impairment. However, unlike in adults, language-related functions can still be salvaged in many young patients even if their left hemispheres are damaged.

To understand whether language processing in the left hemisphere starts from birth or if it is developed later on, neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center analyzed the brain scans of 39 children and 14 adults. The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze and compare how the participants’ brains worked while doing a sentence comprehension task. The task required the participants to listen to descriptions of objects and push a button if they were correct.

Findings showed that children used both left and right regions to comprehend sentences. This was surprising because, in adults, the brain’s right side is usually activated only for non-language related tasks.

According to the researchers, the distribution of language functions in the brain changes as people age. This change begins in childhood and stops at the age of 10 or 11. The researchers believe that this might explain why the right hemisphere’s role in language comprehension eventually declines.

The researchers added that the study’s results might also explain why children recuperate from brain injuries more easily than adults. Using both hemispheres allows children’s brains to compensate if one section is damaged. For instance, if one region of a child’s brain stops functioning because of a stroke, language learning is still possible using the other unharmed hemisphere.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Given that the right hemisphere’s role in understanding language declines over time, do you think children should be exposed to language learning as early as possible? Why or why not?
• Where do you think the findings of this study can be applied (e.g. creation of language learning materials, development of treatments for brain injuries)? Discuss.

Discussion B

• Aside from differences in language processing, what other brain functions of children and adults should scientists compare (e.g. emotional regulation, processing of memories)? Why?
• Why do you think it’s important to study the differences between the brain functions of children and adults? Discuss.