Relative to recent discoveries on gene-behavior associations underlying complex disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression, basic research on human language and disorders of language has been greatly restricted by lack of pre-clinical animal models. Consequently, our insight into language-specific disabilities (e.g., dyslexia, specific language impairment) has not progressed as fast as in other comparable areas of pre-clinical research. In this talk I will present data from genetically engineered mouse models that effectively capture intermediate phenotypes directly relevant to language outcomes. Findings include complex behavioral data from mice with mutations in hearing, dyslexia, and ASD-risk genes. Overall findings speak to the impact that genetically-mediated deficits in low-level acoustic processing, neural “noise,” and/or atypical frequency discrimination might have on higher-order processing. In summary, though mice lack language, using mouse models to study the impact of gene defects on all levels of sensory processing can provide tremendous insight to the foundations of developmental speech and language (and disruptions in these processes) in humans.