Language Acquisition - Big Theorists Summarised

Some key language acquisition theorists summarised. English A2

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Children learn to speak by IMITATING their parents, and being REWARDED or PUNISHED according to the accuracy of their utterances.

e.g.Children eventually learn to say 'went' rather than 'goed'. This appears to be learn through listening, imitation and correction

  • How to spot this:

- Adults explicitly modelling or teaching langauge and children responding

- Children imitating/repeating adults' speech

- Children learning or repeating mistakes after correction from adults

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Noam Chomsky

  • Babies are born with an innate knowledge of the structure of language (all langauge shares the same basic structure) and this speeds up their learning of their native language when they hear it.
  • When they hear examples of langauge they fit these into their (unconcious) mental model of how langauge works - Language Acquisition Device (LAD)

How to spot this:

- Children doing more than simply imitating adult speech

e.g. semantic overextension and overgeneralisation suggest children are actively constructing langauge according to an unconcious model of how langauge works (LAD)

- Children resisting or simply not responding to correction from adults

- Children making up new names for things

- Children forming utterances they've never heard before

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  • Language development goes hand in hand with the development of thinking and knowledge (congnitive development). Until the child has acquired concepts of size, object permancence etc, they can't grasp these concepts.

e.g. When seven year olds were taught phrases like 'more than' and 'less than', the tuition did not help them to grasp these concepts. The words were usually acquired after the concepts have been grasped.

How to spot this:

- Children talking to themselves while playing or working, in a way that suggests they are trying to help themselves because they cant make sense of something - egocentric speech

- Children failing to use or understand language because they havent yet grasped the concept expressed by the language

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Bruner - Social Interactionist Theory

  • Language is social. 'Children learn langauge to get what they want, to play games, to stay connected with those on whom they are dependant' (1983).

Childrens language development is enriched and accelerated according to the quantity and quality of their social interactions with adults. It is only through interactions with adults that children learn the social pragmatics of langauge use.

How to spot this:

- Children clearly enjoying/benefiting from interaction

- Parents reinforcing their children's attempts to speak by reasoning in an encouraging and positive way.

- Adult care givers using CDS

- Conversation skills and pragmatic awareness (e.g. politeness) being modelled/taught/learnt through interaction between adult and child.

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Lenneberg - Critical Period Theory

  • The human brain is designed to acquire langauge at a certain time (i.e.during the first five years)and once this period has passed, normal language development is no longer possible

e.g. Genie - locked up until the age of 13 and never learned to speak fully competently

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