The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills. These skills develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others.
There appear to be critical periods for speech and language development in infants and young children when the brain is best able to absorb language. If these critical periods are allowed to pass without exposure to language, it will be more difficult to learn.
There are several areas of the brain that play a critical role in speech and language. They are:
Broca’s area, located in the left hemisphere, is associated with speech production and articulation. Our ability to articulate ideas, as well as use words accurately in spoken and written language, has been attributed to this crucial area. Findings also show that Broca’s area is not limited to getting language out in a motor sense, but also more generally involved in the ability to deal with grammar itself, at least the more complex aspects of grammar.
This critical language area in the posterior superior temporal lobe connects to Broca’s area via a neural pathway. Wernicke’s area is primarily involved in the comprehension. Historically, this area has been associated with language processing, whether it is written or spoken.
The angular gyrus allows us to associate multiple types of language-related information whether auditory, visual or sensory. It is located in close proximity to other critical brain regions such as the parietal lobe which processes tactile sensation, the occipital lobe which is involved in visual analyses and the temporal lobe which processes sounds. The angular gyrus allows us to associate a perceived word with different images, sensations and ideas. This part of the brain has also been implicated in problems such as alexia (the inability to read), dyslexia (difficulties with reading), and agraphia (the inability to write).
Speech production is a complex process, involving a networked system of brain areas that each contribute in unique ways. Areas beyond Broca’s area and the anterior insula have been implicated in the complex process of producing speech movements.
Links to additional Speech Disorders and Resources.