Human Communication


From the moment we are born our ability to communicate develops and adapts based on our physical abilities, social settings, cultural contexts, and brain function.

At the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour, and Development, we are transforming our understanding of how humans produce and perceive communication across the lifespan. Our work enables us to build more inclusive societies, improve social support systems, detect illness earlier, and enhance the accessibility of language assistive technologies to people with diverse communication abilities.

We have pioneered our understanding of how language is learned and developed in infants and babies, how important communication is in the early weeks and months of their lives, and how early language exposure impacts them throughout their life.

Our team of social scientists, linguists, psychologists, engineers, and technologists are not only global leaders in understanding how humans communicate with each other, but also how humans interact with technology.

Our capability enables us to:

  • Build our understanding of how language develops in infants, and how that impacts them throughout their life
  • Improve technologies for assessing language
  • Develop voice recognition algorithms that can detect language patterns to detect when people are under stress or need additional support
  • Improve translation and cultural support services to enhance quality of care and reduce barriers to accessing support services
  • Understand the impact of bilingualism on the brain
  • Enhance language software so it works more effectively with people who have speech issues or accents.

Our unique approach

Being located in Western Sydney – one of the world’s most culturally and linguistically diverse areas – enables us to address knowledge gaps related to communication in bilingual and non-English speaking populations.

Our multidisciplinary teams work with international researchers, government, community organisations, and industry, to combine existing large data sets with original studies using our specialist laboratories. This helps build our understanding of how communication occurs and how it can be enhanced: whether it’s with infants, in the workforce, or improving support services.

Our researchers are also exploring how humans communicate with machines and technology, enabling us to improve voice recognition algorithms and automated translation services, and ensure communication technology is developed in a way that it is accessible to diverse populations.

Our fields of interest

Our deep understanding of human communication means we are uniquely positioned to inform both research and the commercial applications of communication research. Our areas of interest include:

  • Communication perception: How we see, hear, and understand communication.
  • Communication production: How we plan and produce communication.
  • Language technology: How software, data, and artificial intelligence-based tools can be leveraged to measure, assess, and enable communication.
  • Bilingual communication: Understanding the consequences of language learning and bilingualism on the brain throughout the lifespan.
  • Communication in infants and babies: How communication develops, and how we assess development, particularly in diverse cultural settings.
  • Inclusive communication: How communication can be enhanced to create a more inclusive society for people with diverse communication abilities.
  • Communication as a marker of health: Understanding how the ability to communicate can be used as an indicator of mental health and cognitive function.

Impact built on collaboration

Our research on human communication has a strong focus on translational research. We work with government, industry, not for profit and community organisations to identify and solve real-world challenges that include:

  • Developing language assessment algorithms to identify patterns in transcripts between farmers and counsellors to predict who is likely to need more support in the future.
  • Working in the nursing and construction industries to analyse communication patterns highlighting levels of stress in younger vs older workers, enabling the development of early interventions for improving mental health.
  • Creating voice recognition algorithms that count or transcribe words spoken by young children and their speech therapists, to identify children at risk of speech delay, and help parents take advantage of services to help them.
  • Creating language development tools in collaboration with therapists to improve the effectiveness of therapy and help children overcome speech development issues faster.
  • Developing a culturally appropriate tool to assess language development in indigenous communities.
  • Assessing large data sets from social media over time to see how mental health is changing at a population level.
  • Working with teams in high pressure environments, such as air-traffic control centres and operating theatres, to assess communication and provide guidance for improving communication to enhance teamwork, efficiency, and reduce the chances of miscommunication at critical times.

Our research in action

Across MARCS, we are engaged with hundreds of research projects at any given time. MARCS research projects aim to have a profound impact in their particular field and often involve collaboration with local and international researchers. You can explore our current projects in Human Communication here.