Developing speech, language and cognition



This course is intended to cover a range of key topics in early cognitive and perceptual development, with a special focus on the early processes in speech perception that are fundamental to language acquisition. From a broad information-processing perspective, attention, perception and memory capacity, as well as basic learning mechanisms that are central to cognitive and linguistic development in early infancy will be reviewed. The connection between these early skills and later language and cognitive outcomes will be analyzed and the complex interplay between brain maturation and experience factors will be discussed.

Course plan

1. Topics in early perception and cognition development

2. Sounds and language

3. Topics in speech perception and word learning. Speech perception abilities, sound categories and perceptual narrowing

4. Growing up in a bilingual environment

5. Developmental models of speech perception and phonological processing. Phonetic learning and the Native Language Magnet theory. PRIMIR model


a) An oral presentation and discussion of a selected paper closely related to any of the topics of the the program. Students are expected to summarize the aims, the main findings and critically discuss the results fostering group participation and discussion.

b) Two short written assignments, one on cognitive development topics and the other one on speech/language learning topics connected with the program. 

Oral presentation (40%)

Written assignments  (25% + 25%)

Regular participation in class sessions (10%)


Re-evaluation: Students having obtained a final grade between 3 and 4.9 can opt to re-evauation by improving/extending one or both written assignments. The maximum grade that can be obtained is 5.

Examination-based assessment

Evaluation will be based on a written examination with  6 open questions on the main topics of the program (60%) and a discussion of methods and results form a selected research paper (40%). Students having obtained a final grade between 3 and 4.9 can opt to re-evaluation by taking a second examination. The maximum grade that can be obtained is 5.



Goswami, U. (2008). Cognitive development. New York: Psychology Press.

Johnson, M. H., & De Haan, M. (2015). Developmental cognitive neuroscience: An introduction. John Wiley & Sons.

Westermann, G., & Mani, N. (Eds.). (2017). Early Word Learning. Routledge.


Lytle, S. R., & Kuhl, P. K. (2018). Social interaction and language acquisition: Toward a neurobiological view.


Aslin, R.N. (2014). Infant Learning: Historical, conceptual and methodological challenges.Infancy, vol. 19, 2-27.

Curtin, S. and Zamuner, T. S. (2014), Understanding the developing sound system: interactions between sounds and words. WIREs Cogn Sci, 5: 589–602. doi:10.1002/wcs.1307

Brito, N. H., Fifer, W. P., Amso, D., Barr, R., Bell, M. A., Calkins, S., ... & Colombo, J. (2019). Beyond the Bayley: neurocognitive assessments of development during infancy and toddlerhood. Developmental neuropsychology44(2), 220-247.

Ferguson, B., & Waxman, S. (2017). Linking language and categorization in infancy. Journal of child language44(3), 527.

Saffran, J. R. (2020). Statistical language learning in infancy. Child Development Perspectives14(1), 49-54.

Werker, J. F. (2018). Perceptual beginnings to language acquisition. Applied Psycholinguistics39(4), 703-728