Preserved implicit knowledge of a forgotten childhood language

Jeffrey S Bowers, Sven L Mattys, Suzanne H Gage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research suggests that a language learned during early childhood is completely forgotten when contact to that language is severed. In contrast with these findings, we report leftover traces of early language exposure in individuals in their adult years, despite a complete absence of explicit memory for the language. Specifically, native English individuals under age 40 selectively relearned subtle Hindi or Zulu sound contrasts that they once knew. However, individuals over 40 failed to show any relearning, and young control participants with no previous exposure to Hindi or Zulu showed no learning. This research highlights the lasting impact of early language experience in shaping speech perception, and the value of exposing children to foreign languages even if such exposure does not continue into adulthood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1064-1069
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2009

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