November 9, 2007

Start Pointing! International Adoption Study Shows Kids Learn Nouns First

A team of researchers including Harvard psychologists Jesse Snedeker and Joy Geren published the results of their study of international adoptees, whose English-acquisition technique, they figured, might yield some interesting insights on how kids learn a language. It seems they figured right:

Children follow a consistent pattern when they acquire language. Instead of learning the most common words first, they start by learning a disproportionate number of nouns. In the youngest talkers nouns form up to 60 percent of their vocabulary, compared to just 40 percent of the vocabulary of a typical 2 and a half year-old (who now knows over 600 words).
Participants in the study presumably receive no preferential treatment for their undergraduate applications.

Using international adoptions to understand how kids learn language [scienceblogs.com via tmn]
Study of Language Development in Internationally Adopted Children [wjh.harvard.edu]

1 Comment

I could've told you this, though not in as scientific a manner. I'm trying to raise my daughter to be bilingual (Chinese-English). Problem was, I'm the only Chinese speaker in our household, and I was absent from the household for the period when our daughter was 19-24 months old. So, despite her daily exposure to Chinese prior to that, her English language development powered ahead in my absence (as well it should), and she now speaks English in full sentences with an admirable vocabulary (for a 2.3 year old).

On the other hand, her Chinese vocabulary, though it has grown upon my return 4 months ago, is comprised almost entirely of nouns. She'll utter sentences in English with Chinese nouns thrown in. Which, by the way, is pretty much how Chinese-Americans routinely speak to each other anyway in what we call "Chinglish" (though it also applies in the reverse -- Chinese sentences with English nouns thrown in, depending on the speaker's preference/proficiency with either language). I suspect it's the same way with "Spanglish" or other bilingual amalgams.

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