Theories of first language learning


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  • Here the habit has been learned. The rat knows that to obtain food, it has to press the lever.
  • 2 – It would not lead to sequences
  • Distinguish sounds
    Tell what is possible
    Able to discover grammatical relationships
    Construct simplest grammar rules
    Analogy – computer program
  • Show Cognitive Development video clip of Piaget Stage 2
  • the present progressive tense, be doing, is used to describe an action that is taking place at the moment of speaking (I'm writing now), to describe a present situation that is temporary (I'm living in Paris, but I usually live in London) and to describe future plans (I'm playing tennis tomorrow).
  • Show video clip of child talking
  • Theories of first language learning

    1. 1. 1 Theories of First Language Learning
    2. 2. 2 Questions • Why do children learn their first language in a short time? • Why do children learn their first language in sequences and stages? • How do children learn the rules of their first language when what is heard is variable? • Why do children produce language that they have never heard?
    3. 3. Behaviorism in general • Learning is habit formation 3
    4. 4. 4 Behaviorism in language learning • Language learning is also habit formation • Successful performance of a behavior (pronunciation, grammatically correct sentences, new words) is rewarded, usually by parents, over and over again until the behavior becomes automatic
    5. 5. 5 Evaluation of behaviorism 1 • Habit formation takes a long time • The same process must be repeated over and over again for each grammar feature and word • Habit formation would result in variation • What each child hears is unique so what she learns should be unique. • However, we observe sequences and stages
    6. 6. 6 Evaluation of behaviorism 2 • Habit formation requires uniform language to be successful • Language is not uniform; it is variable • Children only imitate what they hear • Children, however, produce unique words and sentences
    7. 7. 7 Universal Grammar • Universal Grammar (UG) is an internal innate ability for languages • UG is a set of principles that are common to all languages • Not a set of grammar rules • For example, UG tells us that all languages use word order and hearing the language tells children which word order to use
    8. 8. 8 Evaluation of Universal Grammar 1 • UG makes it simple for children to discover rules • Thus, language learning doesn’t take a lot of time • UG is an innate set of principles • Because UG is the same for everyone, sequences and stages are likely
    9. 9. 9 Evaluation of Universal Grammar 2 • UG operates like a computer program and tells children what is possible and not possible • Children can still construct rules even though language is variable • UG helps children create rules • Rules allow children to be creative and make words they’ve never heard before
    10. 10. 10 Evaluation of Universal Grammar 3 • UG is a powerful explanation of how children learn grammar • UG doesn’t explain how children learn words or how to use language socially
    11. 11. Cognitive Development • The way the we see and understand the world develops in stages. 11
    12. 12. 12 Cognitive Development & Language learning • Children learn language by making connections between what they hear and objects, events and situations • Children put the connections that they make in categories and make generalizations
    13. 13. 13 Cognitive Theory • Language ability and cognitive development are not separate • Language learning is part of a child’s cognitive development • How much language children can understand depends on their cognitive development.
    14. 14. 14 Evaluation of the Cognitive Theory 1 • Cognitive abilities develop quickly, and so do language abilities • Cognitive abilities develop in stages, and so do language abilities • Making categories and generalizations lets children overcome variability • Making generalizations leads to new language
    15. 15. 15 Evaluation of the Cognitive Theory 2 • The cognitive theory is a good explanation of how children learn vocabulary • The cognitive theory is less satisfactory in explaining how children learn grammar • Grammatical features with several meanings • I’m writing now. • I’m living in Paris, but I usually live in London. • I’m playing tennis tomorrow.
    16. 16. 16 Functional Theory 1 • Learning occurs by listening to people and speaking with people
    17. 17. 17 Functional Theory 2 • Listening is a chance to understand what is heard • Speaking is a chance to • Send a message • Check one’s understanding • Learn how to express messages grammatically
    18. 18. 18 Evaluation of the Functional Theory 1 • Not all parents talk a lot; some more than others • All children learn to speak in about the same time • Conversations with children are all unique • Because they are unique, it is difficult to explain sequences and stages
    19. 19. 19 Evaluation of the Functional Theory 2 • Language is variable • Checks for comprehension by both parents and children help make rules clear • The functional theory provides no explanation for why children produce words they’ve never heard
    20. 20. Conclusion 1 • Language is complicated • Difficult for one theory to explain how we learn all aspects of language • Each of the theories explains some aspects of language 20
    21. 21. 21 Conclusion 2 • Behaviorism – sociolinguistic knowledge • Many aspects of being polite are learned habits. • When to say please and thank you. • Universal Grammar – grammatical knowledge • An innate computer program perhaps best explains how we master grammar
    22. 22. Conclusion 3 • Cognitive – Vocabulary • When we look at the world, we tend to categorize and generalize about what we see and this is the same thing that we do with new words. • Functional – How to talk • Babies talking with their parents learn conversation rules. • They learn to talk by talking 22