Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | January 4, 2011

Evolution and language

It was explained to me today that, since we became “upright” human beings, and, childbirth happened after 9 months instead of 12 months, this was perhaps a key moment in language development.

Apparently, other mammals are able to walk and fend for themselves as soon as they are born and, since perhaps this point, the point where we as human babies could not, we had to develop language and ways of communicating from mother to child.

I wanted to get other people’s reaction to this.

The implication seems to be, that if this is the case, necessity for speaking would lead to greater language development, which, I have to say is true in my experience of learning the French language.



  1. Dean Falk (Finding our tongues: 2009), stated that with the development of the prehensile thumb, consequent advances in fine-motor skills enabled more skilled handling of ‘tools’ and as a result, women working with tools needed to set their babies down to get on with their tasks. This freaked the babies out. Women thus learnt to shush and sooth the babies with baby-talk (‘motherese’).
    Thus, apparently, appeared proto-language. Initially it had a highly emotional (right brain) content for it evolved out of animal calls. Later, to pass on their tool-handling skills to older children, instruction-giving (left brain) evolved necessitating the development of more complex speech. This became possible as physiological morphology around the throat and palate evolved facilitating a wider range of sounds. Musical transmission of emotional content and ‘meaning’ transfer through differentiated symbolic sounds, then merged. Hence, languages today are a blend of right and left brains working together in conjunction.

  2. Interesting!
    If we relate this to our teaching, all this certainly confirms one theory : the NEED is what pushes people (or at least adults) to learn.
    The human brain has so much to deal with that it HAS to sort information before actually “saving” it.
    Among all the students I’ve met in France, the ones who had the fastest progression were those who were preparing to live abroad. They knew it was “a survival case”!
    The question being for us now : how to create the need for our students???

  3. Good question. How to create the need for our students.

    What do you think, Fanny ?


  4. I’ve got a beginner’s class next week, can you think of an interesting activity which would teach the days of the week by creating a need ?


  5. Well… I thought we could have all together found an idea!!!
    Creating the need in beginner is not so difficult because they are usually eager to learn so that’s kind of enough… but on a specific subject like the days of the week…
    I suppose you could create some a card for each day of the week + a card for an activity (great if you’ve already worked on I like + -ing) and get a student to associate a day of the week with an activity and the others need to find out when the first student does what activity (by asking them questions of course).
    I don’t know really…

  6. This activity doesn’t work on the need but it’s fun :

    (the students must put the letters in the right order to write the days of the week correctly and after in the right order Monday, Tuesday…)

  7. I completely agree that ‘NEED’ is a hugely motivational force and that ‘the need to survive’ in a new linguistic arena greatly encourages student in their training. Perhaps, as Fanny suggests, this is indeed the greatest motivator.

    There are, however, other motivations encouraging students to learn. e.g. gaining brownie points from bosses, training managers, teachers and even peers; self-satisfaction at responding well to a learning challenge; the ‘fun’ of learning etc. Perhaps, these should also be considered, along with any more anyone can think of.

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