Learning a tonal language like Chinese is notoriously difficult–it’s easy to end up calling your mother a horse. But soon there could be a wearable headset that can help. The system was created for people with autism who want help with social interactions, but it could be adapted to help with speech or anxiety problems–or even language learning, says LouAnne Boyd at the University of California at Irvine, part of the team that designed it.
Like a footprint in wet concrete, the first language a baby hears makes an impression that lasts for years, regardless of what follows. Later, children even as old as ten who are adopted or immigrate can completely forget their first language. But even if they do not consciously remember their mother tongue, their brains retain its traces, according to a study published this week in PNAS, led by Lara Pierce of McGill University.