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]