Language learning impairments: integrating basic science, technology, and remediation


One of the fundamental goals of the modern field of neuroscience is to understand how neuronal activity gives rise to higher cortical function. However, to bridge the gap between neurobiology and behavior, we must understand higher cortical functions at the behavioral level at least as well as we have come to understand neurobiological processes at the cellular and molecular levels. This is certainly the case in the study of speech processing, where critical studies of behavioral dysfunction have provided key insights into the basic neurobiological mechanisms relevant to speech perception and production. Much of this progress derives from a detailed analysis of the sensory, perceptual, cognitive, and motor abilities of children who fail to acquire speech, language, and reading skills normally within the context of otherwise normal development. Current research now shows that a dysfunction in normal phonological processing, which is critical to the development of oral and written language, may derive, at least in part, from difficulties in perceiving and producing basic sensory-motor information in rapid succession – within tens of ms (see Tallal et al. 1993a for a review).

There is now substantial evidence supporting the hypothesis that basic temporal integration processes play a fundamental role in establishing neural representations for the units of speech (phonemes), which must be segmented from the (continuous) speech stream and combined to form words, in order for the normal development of oral and written language to proceed. Results from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) studies, as well as studies of behavioral performance in normal and language impaired children and adults, will be reviewed to support the view that the integration of rapidly changing successive acoustic events plays a primary role in phonological development and disorders. Finally, remediation studies based on this research, coupled with neuroplasticity research, will be presented.

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Tallal, P., Merzenich, M., Miller, S. et al. Language learning impairments: integrating basic science, technology, and remediation. Exp Brain Res 123, 210–219 (1998).

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  • Key words Phonological processing
  • Temporal integration and segmentation
  • Language impairment
  • Dyslexia
  • Central auditory processing
  • Neural plasticity
  • Learning
  • Autism
  • Attention deficit disorderExperimental studies of specific language and reading-impaired children