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Is Learning Language an Innate Ability?

Updated on September 28, 2014

How innate is language? How much do parents need to do in order to teach their child how to speak a language? What if no one ever spoke to their baby, would it learn a language? These were questions that were asked by the linguistic world years ago. Many parents feel that they have to speak to their baby in order for it to learn a language. There were some scientists, however, that disagreed

First world cultures

In first world cultures and many other cultures the parents do speak to their baby in what is called "baby talk". This is where the parent speaks in usually a higher pitched voice and usually a more simple form of the language. It is believed by some people that this has to happen in order for the child to learn a language. There has to be some sort of lesson given in order for the child to learn a language.

Papa New Guinea people.
Papa New Guinea people.

Papa New Guinea and Samoan cultures

There were linguists who had that some questions about how language is learned. They decided to travel out to different cultures to see how language was taught in the different cultures and see what the differences and similarities were. They found some interesting things going to the Papa New Guinea and Samoan cultures. First off, in the cultures they didn't speak to their babies like the first world and other cultures do. Second off, language was learned just as fast in these cultures as it was in other cultures.

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Why didn't they speak to their infants?

Many parent, especially with new born babies, cannot fathom not speaking to their baby. Even though they fully realize that their child doesn't understand or speak back, it's just ingrained in our culture. In the Papa New Guinea and Samoan cultures babies aren't viewed as conversational partners and therefore aren't spoken to. It's something kind of silly to speak to a baby since it isn't a conversational partner.

Samoan people.
Samoan people.

How did the children learn language?

Learning language is an innate ability to an extent. If a child is born and locked away, never to be exposed to language it won't just all of a sudden speak the language that its parents do. There has to be some sort of exposure, but it doesn't have to be direct exposure. The infant doesn't have to be spoken to. As long as it is around the language the infant will start making those connections in its brain and will learn the language.


Basically, the human brain is amazing! Picking up a language for infants just requires exposure. Parents, baby-sitters, and daycare worker don't have to teach a child. As long as there is exposure the child will learn. As humans we are wired to communicate with others. It is an ability that we were born with.


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    • HLesley profile image

      Lesley Hebert 3 years ago from New Westminster, BC Canada

      Interesting article. The essential thing for a child to learn a language properly is exposure in the early years. Other interesting studies have been done with so-called feral children who never had that early exposure because they grew up with animals instead of people. Although they can learn to communicate later in life their language skills never develop fully.