Carnegie Mellon University's Lori Holt and Sung-Joo Lim and Stockholm University's Francisco Lacerda are using video game training with a mock "alien" language to replicate the challenges of learning languages as an infant. The research found that listeners were to quick recognize word-like units. The study was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.
To uncover how spoken sounds are decoded by the brain, the research team designed a video game narrated in deliberately distorted speech. The soundtrack (unintelligible babble in any language) was the only source of instruction for the 77 adult players in the study. After only two hours of play, the participants could reliably extract world-length sound categories from continuous alien sounds and apply that learning to advance through the game.