Language learning theories and research

How are languages learnt? Do human beings have an innate capacity for language learning? Why do children seem to learn languages more easily than adults? How are grammar and vocabulary stored in the brain and how are they retrieved?
If you have any views about these theories and research, or if you have any of your own research, observations or experiences to share, then we’d like to hear them.

Nativist theories of language acquisition.
Nativist theories hold that children are born with an innate propensity for language acquisition, and that this ability makes the task of learning a first language easier than it would otherwise be. These “hidden assumptions” allow children to quickly figure out what is and isn’t possible in the grammar of their native language, and allow them to master that grammar by the age of three. Nativists view language as a fundamental part of the human genome, as the trait that makes humans human, and its acquisition as a natural part of maturation, no different from dolphins learning to swim or songbirds learning to sing.

Chomsky originally theorized that children were born with a hard-wired language acquisition device (LAD) in their brains. He later expanded this idea into that of Universal Grammar , a set of innate principles and adjustable parameters that are common to all human languages. According to Chomsky, the presence of Universal Grammar in the brains of children allow them to deduce the structure of their native languages from “mere exposure”. 

The Wug Test

The Wug Test, linguistics, created by Jean Berko Gleason in 1958. It was designed as a way to investigate the acquisition of the plural and other inflectional morphemes in English-speaking children.The child is presented with some sort of pretend creature, and told, “This is a wug.” Another wug is revealed, and the researcher says, “Now there are two of them. There are two…?” Children who have successfully acquired the allomorph /z/ of the plural morpheme will respond: ‘wugs’.The major finding of the wug test was that even very young children have already internalized systematic aspects of the linguistic system that enable them to produce plurals, past tenses, possessives, and other forms of words that they have never heard before. The test has been replicated many times, and it has proven very robust. It was the first experimental proof that young children have extracted generalizable rules from the language around them.

Decontextualised vocabulary learning strategies 
Of the decontextualized vocabulary memorization strategies, mnemonic and non-mnemonic elaboration techniques involving deep semantic processing of target words, such as the ´Keyword method´, have been shown to be more effective than memorization strategies involving only shallow processing, such as oral rote-repetition

















































































































































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