Professor Usha Goswami

Professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience, University of Cambridge


Literacy for all; Language learning; Cognitive developmental neuroscience



Uncovering the roots and rhythms of language learning

How do we first learn language? It’s a question that’s fascinated experts in linguistics for decades, and now neuroscience is revealing an answer. Usha and her team are uncovering the roots of language acquisition—and making it possible to spot developmental language disorders earlier so we can develop effective therapies.


Usha’s neuroscience research suggests that rhythm is the hidden factor in how children learn and process speech—and how they relate speech sounds to written words. All infants and young children benefit from hearing lots of rhythm and rhyme: like being told stories with repetitive rhythms, singing, and playing clapping games to language. For people with dyslexia or DLD, these activities can also form the basis of therapeutic intervention that helps the brain to make important connections between rhythm and syllable patterns.


In one potential therapy, Usha’s team monitor adult brain patterns while they listen to a story and watch a spaceship on a screen. When their brain starts optimizing processing of the linguistic rhythm patterns, the spaceship takes off—a way to practice, reinforce, and speed up an instinctive response.


For Usha, who is a Yidan Prize laureate, one of the big advantages of working with philanthropic funds is being able to attach projects together—and widen the scope of research. She has a number of PhD students working alongside her including scholars supported by other foundations, exploring therapies in primary schools.

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