Cognitivism<br />Cognition is the process involved in thinking and mental activity, such as attention, memory and problem solving.<br />Cognitivism emerged as a response to the behaviourist paradigm. Unlike behaviourism, cognitivism focused on the inner mental activities of human beings in order to understand how people learn. Mental processes such as thinking, memory, knowing and problem-solving were focused upon in such regard. Where behaviorists saw humans as programmed animals who responded to some stimuli, cognitivists proposed the notion that people were rational beings who require active participation in order to learn and whose actions are an outcome of thinking. The cognitivists argue that the black box of the human mind should be opened and understood. Changes in behaviour are observed, but only as an indication of what is occurring in the learner’s head. Language acquisition, regarding cognitive theory, must be viewed within the context of child’s intellectual development. Before children can use linguistics features, their ability to make relative judgements should be developed.<br />Cognitive theories of language acquisition<br />Two theories of cognitive language acquisition are to be discussed here, which are:<br /><ul><li>Cognitive theory of language acquisition by Jean Piaget
Cognitive theory of language acquisition by Lev Vygotsky</li></ul>Cognitive theory of language acquisition by Jean Piaget<br />For Piaget, language acquisition is a cognitive and sort of emotional process that follows certain stages of human development. Piaget linked language development to a child’s cognitive development meaning that the development of the child’s thinking determines when the child can learn to speak and what the child can say. For example, before a child says, “This is car is bigger than that one” he must be having the concepts of size and comparison in his mind. Piaget says that children learn to talk naturally when they are ready without any deliberate teaching by adults.<br />Piaget claimed that child language is egocentric whereas adult language is socialized. He distinguished between three types of egocentric speech:<br /><ul><li>Echolalia : repetition of their own or others’ utterances
Monologue: talking to themselves, apparently speaking their thoughts aloud
Collective monologue: two or more children appear to be engaged in a conversation, taking turns, speaking appropriately, but careful listening shows that each is just producing monologues without any evident meaning.</li></ul>Piaget’s main interest was the cognitive development in children and regarded it as a precondition for language acquisition. He proposed the theory that language was just a way of reflecting a child’s thought process and that language didn’t contribute to the development of thinking. He argued that cognitive development occurred before linguistic development. Piaget saw language as a development of the child’s ability to manipulate symbols, which emerged near the end of the sensorimotor period of development.<br />According to Piaget, children learn their first or initial rational constructs by the environment i.e. interaction with other people and they construct language through a combination of schemas (biologically given intelligence). As these schemas develop and become more complex in the brain, language and vocabulary progress in order for the child to handle the new schemas. <br />Piaget was the first to say that children reason and think differently at different periods in their lives. He believed that all children progress through four different and distinct stages of cognitive development. This theory is known as Piaget’s Stage Theory because it deals with four stages of development, which are:<br /><ul><li>Sensorimotor stage
This is the first stage of development, which begins at birth and continues up to about age 2. In this stage, children learn about physical objects and are concerned with motor skills and the consequences of some of their actions. Whenever the children see a new object, they shake it, throw it, chew it or put it in their mouth simply, so that they may understand its characteristics. Around age 1, children learn the concept of object permanence i.e. an object continues to exist even if it out sight of a child.
This is the second stage of development, beginning around age 2 and continuing up till age 6 or 7. This stage is marked by acquisition of language and during this stage children become able to think of symbols, to form ideas from words, etc. Children, in this stage, also begin to understand concept of space and time and understand numerical concepts like addition and subtraction, they are able even to differentiate between past and future although they remain highly focused on the present. They focus more on concrete physical situations and have difficulty in dealing with abstract concepts. The thought of a child at this stage is very egocentric and often assumes that people see situations from his viewpoint.
This is the third stage of development, beginning around age 6 or 7 and continuing up till age 11 or 12. Children are now able to group certain things into categories, and put objects into size order, number order, and any other types of systematic ordering. There is a form of logical reasoning and thinking. Their experience of the world at this age makes them able to imagine events that occur outside of their own lives. A capacity for abstraction is also acquired at this stage and children begin to study complex disciplines such as mathematics, solve problems with number and reverse previously performed operations. The children are able to understand views and perspectives of other people and are capable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time. In this stage a child can do mental operations but only with real concrete objects, events or situations.
This is the fourth and final stage of development, beginning at age 11 or 12 and goes up to age 15 where many abilities are mastered generally. At this stage, new capabilities are developed in a child, such as to provide reason logically and to establish abstract relationships. By the end of this stage a child begins to think more adult like and can use formal, abstract logic. A child is also able to think about probabilities and about moral issues such as justice.</li></ul>Overall, Piaget argued that language basically represents a skill of symbolic representation gradually acquired through stages of cognitive development. His view is in contrast to Chomsky’s theory about universal grammar; that a general mechanism in the brain accounts for humans’ ability to acquire language, which he saw as being far too complex and distinctive to be acquired simply through experience and general cognitive processes.<br />It is evident that there is some link between cognitive development and language acquisition and Piaget’s theory helps to explain the order in which certain aspects of language are acquired. However, Piaget’s theory does not explain why language emerges in the first instance.<br />Piaget believed a child to be an active participant in his own learning and believed that adults should provide a vast range of resources and experiences to encourage child learning. These resources and experiences should be based on a child’s own interests, which should be judge from observations. The adults should be skilled and sensitive i.e. they must know what to do when and to avoid intervening when not appropriate. The adult must also support a child’s language development by providing appropriate vocabulary to accompany the tasks and activities that the children are engaged in and to help the children in understanding things at a deeper level e.g. mathematical language.<br />Cognitive theory of language acquisition by Lev Vygotsky<br />Vygotsky was of the view that language was a system of symbolic representation, which had been perfected over many previous generations and allowed the child to abstract the world. Language, as in his view, came into three separate categories, which were Social, Egocentric, and Inner. For Vygotsky language was what made thinking a possibility. Language is the difference between thinking on an elementary level and on a higher level.<br /><ul><li>Origins of thought and language according to Vygotsky</li></ul>He proposed the theory that thought and speech have different roots in humankind, thought being nonverbal and language being non-intellectual in an early stage. The development lines for thought and language are not parallel and they cross each other again and again. From birth to age of two, the development lines are running separate which join to initiate a new form of behaviour at age of two. This is the point where thought becomes verbal and speech becomes logical. A child at first seems to be using language for surface level social interaction but at some point this language becomes the structure of the child’s thinking. <br /><ul><li>Word meaning and concept formation</li></ul>When the child realizes that everything in the world has a name, he faces a problem whenever something new is presented to him. He tries and solves the problem himself by naming the object but when he is unable to find any word for the new object, he asks it from adults. These early word-meanings which the child acquires will be the roots of concept formation in his mind.<br /><ul><li>Vygotsky’s social constructivism</li></ul>According to Vygotsky, all fundamental cognitive abilities develop in light of social history and form the products of socio-historical development. Meaning hereby that cognitive skills and thought patterns are not primarily determined by innate factors but are the products of activities a child practices in the society. In this process, language is a crucial tool which determines how a child will learn to think because advanced thoughts or let’s say more novel thoughts are transmitted to the child by means of words. <br />Thought and language, and intellectual development<br />Vygotsky believed that in order to understand intellectual development, one must understand the interrelations between language and thought. Language is not just an expression of the knowledge a child has acquired but there is a relation between thought and speech, each providing resource to the other i.e. language becomes essential in forming thought and determining personality features.<br />Zone of Proximal Development<br />Zone of proximal development is the difference between the child's capacity to solve problems on his own, and his capacity to solve them with assistance. In other words, the term zone of proximal development means to denote the distance at any given time between what a child actually knows and what the child can learn under the supervision of an adult or through contact with other children. The zone of proximal development includes all the functions and activities that a child or a learner can perform only with the assistance of someone else. The person assisting the child could be an adult like a parent, teacher or caretaker or another peer who has already mastered that ability.<br />Vygotsky’s theory in contrast with Piaget’s theory<br />Vygotsky was critical of Piaget's assumption that developmental growth was independent of experience and based on a universal characteristic of stages. Vygotsky believed that characteristics did not cease at a certain point as Piaget did. When one thing was learned, it was used from then on. It did not stop just because a child entered another stage of development. Everything was progressive. Vygotsky also disagreed with Piaget's assumption that development could not be impeded or accelerated through instruction. Vygotsky believed that intellectual development was continually evolving without an end point and not completed in stages as Piaget theorised. Piaget’s stages only approach up to, and end with, approximately age fifteen. This theory does not seem to have any major factors after approximately age fifteen. Another important fact to notice is that Piaget’s theory does not apply to children with disabilities for a child suffering from autism or brain dysfunction will not be able to go through of all of Piaget’s development stages.<br />