Risto Kalervo Näätänen, Ph.D. is Professor at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, and Academy Professor of The Academy of Finland. The Helsinki Brain Research Center (Prof. R. Näätänen, Director) was selected as one of the National Centers of Excellence in Scientific Research by the Ministry of Education Finland in 2002-2007. His recent studies support the hypothesis that during the early childhood, language-specific memory traces for the native-language speech sounds are being formed in the infant’s cortex. This neurodevelopmental process serves to increase sensitivity to the contrasts present in the child’s native language. The fastest native and non-native speech-sound contrast learning is likely to take place when the child still is in the process of building the native-language memory traces serving as recognition patterns in speech perception. His recent results showing that in young children, such memory traces for foreign phonemes develop in less than two months, whereas this takes considerably longer in adults. He aims to investigate in the future the neurobiological manifestations of the native- and non-native speech-sound discrimination in infants. He will train infants to discriminate native- and non-native phonemes in order to test our hypothesis according to which non-native speech-sound recognition patterns that will be developed via this training will permit a quicker and more accurate foreign speech-sound discrimination and perhaps even an improved pronunciation later on as compared with children not receiving this training. His recent results demonstrate how human newborns can learn to discriminate difficult speech-sound contrasts in a couple of hours while they are sleeping. In future, he plans to investigate infants’ memory and especially learning during sleep.
Web site: http://www.helsinki.fi/english/