01A: Language Acquisition and Learning Theory
- What is language acquisition?
Language acquisition is the very complex process by which humans acquire language. Although researchers agree that language acquisition is complex, the manner of which an individual acquires language has been long debated. The debate revolves around how much nature and nurture influence language learning.
- What are three theories of language acquisition?
Language acquisition theories can be categorized into three views:
(1) environmental theory, (2) biological theory and (3) cognitive theory.
Learning theorists believe in the environmental theory of language acquisition. Learning theorists, such as Skinner, believe a child has no innate knowledge of language and is born with a “blank slate”. They believe that behavior and language is learned and is based on interaction with the environment. They believe that language is no different than any other behavior in that it is learned and it is an operant behavior. The environment effects language development and how one uses language is affected directly by the environment.
Nativists believe in the biological theory of language acquisition. Nativists, such as Chomsky and Lenneberg, believe that language is an innate system that emerges as the nervous system develops. Chomsky and Lenneberg had very similar ideas. They believe that various language development stages that a child goes through occur not because of learning but because of maturity…that is that language development is biologically driven. They believe that language is a function of physiological processes. They do believe that you must be exposed to language to speak, but that ultimately language is preprogrammed and the environment does not necessarily change the fixed order or sequence of acquisition.
Cognitive theorists believe in the cognitive theory of language acquisition. Cognitive theorists, such as Piaget, believe that language is a series of cognitive discoveries that a person makes, and when experience and maturity coincide language will be discovered. Cognitive theory is based on concept development and reasoning processes. Cognitive theorists believe that the interaction with the environment as well as the maturation of the nervous system results in cognitive development. They believe that acquisition occurs when an individual exhibits “readiness”, meaning that realizations occur when the individual is exposed to critical experiences and are cognitively ready to process the experiences. They believe that language is not learned, but rather it is discovered. They believe that skills have prerequisite skills.
- Important terms regarding language acquisition:
• Critical period (Lenneberg): evidence that primary acquisition of first language is dependent upon certain neurological skills; between 2 and 13 years
• Mands (Skinner): commands
• Tact (Skinner): come in contact with; acknowledging intent
• Adaptation (Piaget): ability to adapt to environment
• Cognitive dissonance: unable to process certain information because it is out of place
• Object permanence: realization that things exist even though you can’t see them
• Causality: cognitive discovery that things happen for a reason
• Means-ends: realization that you can use things to make things happen
• Representational thinking (symbolic play): discovery that certain things can stand for other things
• Imitation: ability for individual to do what someone else just did