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What is Language Acquisition Theory? 3 Top Theories of How We Learn to Communicate

Language is what makes us human- it’s what sets us apart from so much of the animal kingdom. But how do we acquire language? What is language acquisition theory, what are the stages of learning a language, and what neurocognitive research is available on language acquisition theory? 

How does language work in the brain? How do our brains develop a second language or sign language? How does artificial intelligence develop language abilities? How can you help your child improve language acquisition?

Language Acquisition Theory- There are as many as 50 regions in the brain that are involved in languWhat age

What is Language Acquisition Theory?

Language acquisition is the process by which we are able to develop and learn a language. This generally includes speaking, listening, writing, and overall communication. Our ability to acquire language is a uniquely human trait because although bonobos, a species of primate, can produce vocalizations with meaning, birds can produce songs, and whales have their own version of a language, no species on Earth that we know of can express an unlimited amount of abstract ideas with a limited set of symbols (gestures, words, and sounds). 

The term language acquisition often refers to the first-language acquisition, which simply means that it’s the first language learned as an infant (unless the child learns two or more languages at the same time). However, there is also the term second-language acquisition, which refers to the process in both children and adults when they learn additional languages apart from their native one. Each of these terms has at least one language acquisition theory behind them which seeks to answer the big question of “how do we learn a language?”

The History of Language Acquisition Theory

As with much of history, it all begins with some philosophers in ancient societies who were interested in how the world worked—in this case, how humans were able to develop language. 

Using “armchair psychology” (sitting and thinking about the problem), these philosophers came to the conclusion that we were able to learn languages due to the subset of a human’s ability to gain knowledge and learn concepts. They believed that language was an innate ability that we were born with. Plato, for example, felt that word-meaning mapping was also innate in one way or another.

Scholars who studied Sanskrit—an ancient language used over 3,000 years ago in what is now India—debated for over 12 centuries about whether or not a human’s ability to recognize and use the correct meaning of words in Sanskrit was something passed down by generations and learned from pre-established conventions (for example, a child learns the word for horse because he hears older speakers talking about horses) or whether it was innate (“God-given”).Later, philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes got in on the language party and argued that knowledge (and language, in Locke’s case) come from abstracted sense impressions. What does that mean? They argue that language comes from a sensory experience.

Behaviorists, people who believe that everything is acquired through conditioning, argued that language is learned through operant conditioning—a form of conditioning that happens through rewards and punishments, which makes someone associate between a particular behavior and its consequence. In essence, that a child learns that a specific combination of words or sounds stands for a specific concept or idea through successfully repeated associations.

For example, a child would learn that their house animal, Whiskers, is a cat while their other house animal, Fido, is a dog. He would do so because when the child would call Whiskers his dog, his parents would say that no, Whiskers is a cat, not a dog. 

One of the leading proponents for this theory of language acquisition is B.F. Skinner, one of the founders of the Behaviorist movement.

However, Noam Chomsky, one of the world’s greatest linguists to date strongly criticized Skinner’s theory. Chomsky argued that kids often ignore their parents’ corrections and would not likely learn that actual, proper use of the word or phrase and end up using it incorrectly, by means of Skinner’s conditioning theory. Chomsky’s language acquisition theory involved a more mathematical approach to language development based on a syntax (the meaning of a word) study.

To get some more details on the history of language acquisition theory, check out this Stanford article!

3 Popular Language Acquisition Theories

Language acquisition theory: The Nativist Theory

One of the most well-known and most scientifically accurate theories yet, the Nativist Theory suggests that we are born with genes that allow us to learn language.

This language acquisition theory argues that there is a theoretical device known as the language acquisition device (LAD) that is somewhere in our brain. This “device” is in charge of our learning a language the same way the hypothalamus, for example, is in charge of regulating our body temperature.

This theory also suggests that there is a universal grammar (a theory by Noam Chomsky) that is shared across every language in the world because universal grammar is part of our genetic makeup. Essentially, almost all languages around the world all have nouns and verbs and similar ways to structure thoughts. All languages have a finite amount of rules from which we can build an infinite amount of phrases. The core concepts from these finite rules are built into our brains (according to Universal Grammar and the Nativist Theory).

This language acquisition theory explains well how humans seem to have a far more complicated and complex set of communication patterns than any other species in the world. It also is a working theory for how children are able to learn so quickly so many complicated ideas. This language acquisition theory is comparable to how we think of numbers—everyone in the world knows what “4 apples” look like regardless if we say that there are four, cuatro, vier, or dört apples.

Language acquisition theory: The Sociocultural Theory

The sociocultural theory, also known as the interactionist approach, takes ideas from both biology and sociology to interpret our language acquisition.

This language acquisition theory states that children are able to learn language out of a desire to communicate with their surrounding environment and world. Language thus is dependent upon and emerges from social interaction. The theory argues that due to our language developing out of a desire to communicate, our language is dependent upon whom we hang around and with whom we want to communicate.

Essentially, the theory says that our environment when we grow up has a heavy influence on how quickly and how well we learn to talk. For example, an infant who is raised by a single dad will develop the word “dada” or “baba” before developing “mama”.

Language acquisition theory: The Learning Theory

The learning theory is a language acquisition theory that looks at language learning as learning a new skill and that we learn language much in the same way that we learn how to count or how to tie shoes via repetition and reinforcement. When babies babble, adults coo and praise them for “talking” (and also because it’s pretty adorable).

When the kids grow older, they often are praised for speaking properly and corrected when they don’t. From this correction and praise comes the learning theory that language comes from stimulus and stimulus-response. However, this language acquisition theory, logical as it may be, fails to explain how new phrases and new words form since it’s all about repeating and mimicking what people hear from others.

Stages of Language Acquisition Theory

The first few years of a child’s life are critical for language learning. Between 10-18 months, a child will say their first words and before they reach two-years-old, they will be able to say some simple, short phrases (for example, “water, please”). Studies have shown that an 18-month old can actually tell the difference between correct verbs and incorrect verb pairs. For example, they should know that “is jumping” is correct while “will jumping” isn’t. Between the ages of four and seven, kids become more and more able to tell understandable stories. Normally, everyone goes through five stages of acquiring a language.

Language Acquisition Theory- Studies have shown that an 18-month old can actually tell the difference between correct verbs and incorrect verb pairs

Stage 1- Pre-production

This first stage is also known as the silent period. Although a child may have up to 500 words in their receptive vocabulary (words they’ve learned from watching and listening as babies do), they aren’t able to speak yet. Some kids try to mimic and “parrot you” by repeating everything you say. However, they aren’t producing any real words yet. This is the stage when kids listen attentively and they respond to visual and auditory stimuli. They are able to understand and duplicate movements and gestures in order to show their comprehension. However, at this stage, repetition is critical for their phonemic awareness.

Stage 2- Early Production

Stage 2 can last up to six months. During this stage, kids will develop a vocabulary of about 1,000 words and can say one or two phrases. They use short bits of language that they have memorized, but these bits might not be used correctly.

Stage 3- Speech Emergence

In this stage, kids have about a 3,000-word vocabulary and can use simple sentences and phrases. They should be able to sound out stories phonetically and match vocabulary words to definitions. Kids are also able to ask simple questions such as “may I go to bathroom?”—though the grammar may not always be 100% correct.

Stage 4- Intermediate Fluency

Kids in Stage 4 have roughly 6,000 active words in their vocabulary. They are able to start using more complex sentences and should be able to express basic thoughts and opinions (both in speaking and writing). For English as a Second Language learners, this is the stage when the child begins to use strategies from their native language to learn content in English and may also translate assignments from their native language.

Stage 5- Advanced Fluency

It can take 4-10 years to achieve academic cognitive fluency for a second language learner. It also means that all language learners (native or not) are fluent (for their age) in this stage.

Language acquisition theory and the brain

There are as many as 50 regions in the brain that are involved in language from translating the vibrations in the air into neural activity so our brain can hear it to controlling the complex and complicated physical movements needed to produce speech and communicate to manipulating and using symbols to help make up ideas and thoughts.

Around the same time President Lincoln was giving his Gettysburg Address speech, the French neurologist, Pierre Paul Broca, found what is now called today as Broca’s Area—an area in the brain that handles language processing, speech production, comprehension, and controls facial functions. It’s located in the posterior frontal gyrus.

When damage occurs in Broca’s Area, the person will probably experience Broca’s Aphasia and have language issues. Pierre Paul Broca was the first person to associate the left brain hemisphere with language. The majority of us control our language via the left hemisphere except for 30% of left-handers and 10% of right-handers.

Behind Broca’s area is the Pars Triangularis which is involved in the semantics of a language. It’s used when you stop to think about what someone said—such as a complex sentence.

A few years after Broca, a German neurologist, Carl Wernicke, found the counterpart of Broca’s Area in the superior posterior temporal lobe—a place now known as Wernicke’s Area. This area handles the language that we hear and the process known as receptive language. Wernicke was the first person to map out the language process in the brain—cognition-to-speech, writing-to-reading, and speech-to-comprehension. It was later adopted by Norman Geschwind and is now a map known as the Wernicke-Geschwind model. However, it’s rather outdated by now.

The same man, Norman Geschwind, found in the 1960s that the inferior parietal lobule is important in language processing. This is the part of the brain that is all about language development and acquisition as well as the abstract use of language. It’s the place in the brain where we collect and consider written and spoken words, phrases, and ideas.

It’s such a complex area and process that it’s where we not only are able to understand the meaning of a word but also how they sound and their function in grammar. The inferior parietal lobule is where the brain classifies and orders our sensory, visual, and auditory intake which is why it’s thought that kids who don’t learn to read or write until they are around age five is due to a late maturation of the lobule.

Still within the frontal lobe is the fusiform gyrus, a part of the brain that helps us classify and recognize words into categories. For example, “cat” and “dog” are both classified as nouns and are both animals whereas “jump” and “sit” are both action verbs.

Language Acquisition Theory- The majority of us control our language via the left hemisphere except for 30% of left-handers and 10% of right-handers.

Second language acquisition theory

When learning a second language (an additional language to your native language), the development of meaning is one of, if not the, most important part. There are many types of meaning such as grammatical (morphology of a word, tenses, possession, etc.), semantic (word meaning), lexical (meaning that comes from our mental lexicon), and pragmatic (meaning that depends on context). Mastery of each of these is necessary when acquiring a second language. The stages of second-language acquisition are much like those of a first-language acquisition. However, people and kids learning a second language will take longer than they did with their first-language to come to full fluency in their second language.

Kids who grow up bilingual have been proven to usually take longer to begin speaking because their brains are trying to sort out the grammar between the two (or more) language systems. 

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Sign Language & Language Acquisition Theory

When the child begins to learn sign language as a native speaker from birth, they do so in the same way that a child who can hear learns languages. Signed languages and spoken languages are different in the most basic manner- spoken relies on auditory/oral skills, while signed relies on visual/manual abilities. As a result, it could be thought that sign language acquisition differs from spoken language acquisition theory. However, there really aren’t any extreme or noteworthy differences between acquiring the two because they are both parts of the natural (human) language group.

Roughly 10% of deaf signers are born into already signing families which makes it easier to learn since the whole family signs and the child from birth is surrounded by sign language. Parents who communicate with their kids (whether or not the kid can hear) by way of sign language help the child naturally acquire sign language in the same way that non-deaf parents teach their children their native language (check out the study here).

Both hearing and deaf children use gestures and physical symbolizing to show something when they’re young. However, in deaf children, these gestures appear around the same time that a hearing child produces their first spoken words (study here).

According to this research paper, “deaf children move from prelinguistic gesturing to performing manual syllabic babbling which occurs at 7-10 months of age. This is an activity which differs from other hand activity of the child because it “possess (1.) a restricted set of phonetic units (unique to signed languages), (2.) syllabic organization, and it was (3.) used without meaning or reference

Language Acquisition Theory- Artificial Intelligence has two languages coded into it- the natural (human) language, and languages created by scratch by programmers.

Language Acquisition Theory & Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) can now create their own language, use language, and evolve that language- just like humans! Researchers have noted that A.I. has the ability to exchange a set of symbols that are capable of serving as signs in a generated language. The A.I. languages can either begin from a human language, known as a natural language or be created from scratch by programmers and code.

When A.I. translates between two languages, it can create its own language known as an interlingua language. Essentially, it can create its own form of creole or “Spanglish.”

Google Translate decided in 2016 to take an A.I. designed specifically to translate between 103 human languages, including languages that had never before been translated between each other, and they found that the A.I. was able to encode semantics (the meaning of a word, phrase, idea) within its structures while translating. The researchers concluded that a new interlingua that evolved from human languages exists within the Google Translate network. You can look at their study here.

As some may know, in 2017, Facebook’s A.I. created its own language. Scary as it may be, it’s important to ask, “how did that happen?” Facebook researchers trained chatbots (A.I. that have a conversation via text or audio in order to “chat”) using a series of English text conversations that involved humans playing trading games between hats, balls, and books. The chatbots were programmed to use English to communicate and given tasks to trade the aforementioned items. However, the chatbots developed a reworked version of English in order to solve their task better. Many of the exchanges in the reworked English were nonsensical and didn’t make much sense to the average reader. For example:

Bob: “I can can I I everything else.”

Alice: “Balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to.”

You can check out more details here!    

Neurocognitive Research on Language Acquisition Theory

For the process of language acquisition—especially when acquiring more than one language—the younger, the better. Studies have shown that learning new languages helps fight against neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s. However, there are a multitude of reasons, and numerous studies that show how healthy for our brain it is to be bilingual. 

Scientists have found brain mechanisms that assist in early language development. Phonemic awareness (one’s ability to understand sound in language such as the difference between “bed” and “bad”) is essential to language development.

The study found that the way an infant’s brain responds to phonetic stimuli (such as hearing someone talking) reflects their language ability, as well as their pre-reading abilities. This can be used as a predictor of how well they will be able to read and speak at age three and age five.

Adults who learn a second language later in life have more to offer to their language development, although they may be slower than a child at learning it. Being able to maintain your first language (as an adult) after having learned a second language is determined by being able to informally use both the first and second language in daily life, as well as education levels, according to this study.

Music plays a huge role in language development, too! Whether it’s in the womb, as a child, or learning a second language as an adult, music is useful for learning any and all languages. Music incorporates speech, writing (if you’re reading lyrics, for example), and rhythms. Music learning actually matches the speed and effort put into language acquisition.

Language Acquisition Theory- in countries such as Ghana where over 250 languages are spoken, people grow up native in multiple (more than two or three) native languages which is proven to help fight neurodegenerative diseases! 

How to Improve Your Child’s Language Acquisition

  • Delayed Speech. If your child is learning a second language or having lots of trouble with the first/native language, a speech pathologist may be able to help straighten out some of the underlying issues that are going on cognitively with the child’s brain.
  • Read! It’s never too early to begin reading to a baby- science has proven that babies can learn words while in the womb! Even starting with simple picture books (and describing what’s going on on the page) can help a baby or child.
  • Talk! Just like reading, talking to a baby, whether it’s in the womb or not, can help them develop language. Narrate the day. For instance, “We are going to cook dinner. Do you like the Macaroni & Cheese we are going to have? Let’s wash our hands and sit down to eat.” You can even prep a baby for second-language and foreign language learning in the womb!
  • Tell stories! Like talking, telling stories (especially elaborate ones) can help a child develop vocabulary.
  • Listen to music! Music has been proven by a multitude of sources, such as this one,  that it aides in language learning. A simple song such as Old McDonald Had a Farm helps a child learn rhythm, vocabulary, and reinforces happy learning.
  • Use the television but at a minimal level. Many people around the world have learned foreign languages by watching TV. Have your child watch cartoons in a foreign language for a small amount of time daily to help aid their foreign learning development.
  • Try using a program, such as Cognifit’s, to help your child ramp up his language skills!
  • Go on field trips to fun places such as an interactive or interesting museum (for kids), the aquarium, or the zoo and help them learn the names of their surroundings (animals, plants, and how the world works).

Let us know what you think about Language acquisition theory in the comments below!

Rhotacism: A complete guide to this speech impediment

Remember when you were a child and spoke by making your “R’s” sound like “W’s” and everything thought it was cute? That’s known as rhotacism and some people live with it even as adults. What is rhotacism, what is it like in other languages, and what are its symptoms? What does it look like as a speech impediment and what are some examples? What are its causes? How does it affect the brain? Is it curable and how can it be fixed? This article will answer all your doubts about rhotacism. 

Rhotacism

What is rhotacism?

Rhotacism is a speech impediment that is defined by the lack of ability, or difficulty in, pronouncing the sound R. Some speech pathologists, those who work with speech impediments may call this impediment de-rhotacization because the sounds don’t become rhotic, rather they lose their rhotic quality. It could also be called a residual R error.

It’s not such an uncommon phenomenon and actually also happens with the letter L, a phenomenon known as lambdacism. Sometimes people mistake these speech impediments for a lisp, of which they are not. Within the 2000-2001 school year, more than 700,000 students within the American public school system were categorized as having either a language impediment or a speech impediment. Ironically, all three speech impediments contain the troubled letter within them.

The word rhotacism comes from the New Latin rhotacism meaning peculiar or excessive use of [r]. The Latin word came from Ancient Greek word rhōtakismós which means to incorrectly use “rho” which is the equivalent of the Greek R. For language nerds, here’s a really great explanation of how the word came into being.

How does rhotacism work in different languages?

Rhotacism is, in theory, more common among people whose native language has a trilled R. For example, in Spanish the “rr” is a trilled R. Other languages with a trilled R include Bulgarian, Hungarian, Arabic, Finnish, Romanian, Indonesian, Russian, Italian, and most Swedish speakers. Some people might mock Asians, specifically Chinese, for not being able to pronounce the English word “broccoli” correctly- rather pronouncing it “browccoli”. This isn’t due to a rhotacism, however. It’s actually due to the fact that Mandarin (Chinese) words can have an “r” sound in the beginning of a word, but not in the middle or end of a word. This leads them to have issues in their phonotactics and creates an inability to pronounce the English “R” in the middle of words.

The leader of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, is a Lebanese leader and is mocked for his rhotacism when he says,Amwīka” and “Iswā’īl” for the Arabic Amrīka (America), and Isrā’īl (Israel). He is a native Arabic speaker- a language which has the trilled R. Notice how he puts a W sound in those two words where the R sound usually is.

Symptoms of rhotacism

  • Some people try to hide their impediment by avoiding words with R’s in them.
  • An overall inability to say R sounds
  • Using trilled R’s or guttural R’s (such as the French R) when trying to pronounce the regular English R.

Rhotacism as a speech impediment

Using a strict classification, only about 5%-10% of the human population speaks in a completely normal way. Everyone else suffers from some type of speech disorder or another. For children of any language, the R sounds are usually the hardest to master and often end up being the last ones a child learns. That’s why baby talk if you think about it, doesn’t really use explicit or strong R sounds. In English, rhotacism often comes off as a W sound which is why “Roger Rabbit” sounds like “Woger Wabbit”. R is often more difficult because a child has to learn the different combination of the /r/ sounds, not just the letter itself, unlike other letters. For example, when it comes before and after vowel sounds. The combination of a vowel with the /r/ sound is called a phenome and in English, there are eight combinations of these:

–        The prevocalic R, such as “rain”

–        The RL, such as “girl”

–        The IRE, such as “tire”

–        The AR, such as “car”

–        The EAR, “such as “beer”

–        The OR, such as “seashore”

–        The ER, such as “butter”

–        The AIR, such as “software”

A speech impediment is a speech disorder, not a language disorder. Speech disorders are problems in being able to produce the sounds of speech whereas language disorders are problems with understanding and/or being able to use words. Language disorders, unlike speech disorders, have nothing to do with speech production.

Often what happens is that the person speaking isn’t tensing their tongue enough, or not moving their tongue correctly (up and backward depending on the dialect) which makes the W or “uh” sound come out. It may also be that the person is moving their lips instead of their tongue.

Rhotacism- the really red, round apple

Examples of rhotacism

  • Barry Kripke from the TV show The Big Bang Theory has both rhotacism and lambdacism- meaning he has issues pronouncing both his R’s and his L’s.
  • The most famous of rhotacism would be Elmer Fudd from Looney Tunes. He pronounces the word “rabbit” [ˈɹ̠ʷæbɪ̈t] as “wabbit” [ˈwæbɪ̈t]
  • In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the 1979 film’s character Pilate suffers from rhotacism. In the film, people mock him for his inability to be understood easily.

Here’s a video with a woman who suffers from rhotacism. She explains how difficult it can be to have the speech impediment.

Causes of rhotacism

For many people, the causes of rhotacism are relatively unknown-, especially in adults. However, scientists theorize that the biggest cause is that the person grew up in an environment where they heard R’s in a weird way, the shape of their mouths are different than normal, or their tongues and lips never learned how to produce the letter. In children, this could happen because the parents or adults around think the way the child talks (using baby talk) is cute and the child never actually learns how to produce it.

For one internet forum user, it has to do with how they learned the language, “I speak various languages, I pronounce the “R” normal in Dutch, French, and Spanish, but I have a rhotacism when speaking English. It’s the way I learnt it.”

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For other people, speech issues are a secondary condition to an already existing, serious condition. Physically, it would be a cleft lip or a cleft palate. Neurologically, it could be a condition such as cerebral palsy. It may also be a tongue tie. Almost everyone has a stretch of skin that runs along the bottom of their tongue. If that skin is too tight and reaches the tip of the tongue, it can make pronouncing (and learning how to pronounce) R’s and L’s difficult. If the tongue tie isn’t fixed early on, it can be incredibly difficult to fix and learn how to pronounce later.

How the brain affects rhotacism

The brain affects rhotacism only for those who suffer from it not due to a physical impediment (such as a cleft palate). For some, this could happen because the brain doesn’t have the phonemic awareness and never actually learned what the letter R is supposed to sound like. This is common with kids whose parents spoke to them in “baby talk” and encouraged the child’s baby talk, too. This kind of behavior only strengthens a child’s inner concept that /R/ is pronounced like “w” or “uh”.

Another reason could be that the brain connections simply don’t allow the lips or mouth to move in the way they need to in order to pronounce the R. This inability has little to do with physical incapabilities and more to do with mental ones. Some people with rhotacism have an issue with their oral-motor skills which means that there isn’t sufficient communication in the parts of the brain responsible for speech production.

Treatment for rhotacism

Is rhotacism curable?

It can have negative social effects- especially among younger children, such as bullying, which lowers self-esteem and can have a lasting effect. However, if the impediment is caught early enough on and is treated rather quickly, there is a good overall prognosis meaning it’s curable.

        However, some people never end up being able to properly pronounce that R and they end up substituting other sounds, such as the velar approximant (like w sounds), the uvular approximant (also known as the “French R”), and the uvular trill (like the trilled R in Spanish).

How to fix rhotacism

Rhotacism is fixed by speech therapy. Before anything else, there needs to be an assessment from a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) who will help decide if the problem can be fixed. If a child is involved, the SLP would predict if the child can outgrow the problem or not. After the diagnosis, a speech therapist will work with the person who suffers from the speech impediment by possibly having weekly visits with some homework and practice instructions. Therapy happens in spouts- a period of a few weeks and a break. There is a follow-up to see if there has been an improvement in pronunciation. In the U.S., children who are in school and have a speech disorder are placed in a special education program. Most school districts provide these children with speech therapy during school hours.

Another option, often used alongside speech therapy, is using a speech therapy hand-held tool that helps isolate the sound being pronounced badly and gives an image of the proper tongue placement to enable better pronunciation.

One study tested a handheld tactical tool (known as Speech Buddies) and the traditional speech therapy methods. The study found that students who used the hand-held tool (alongside speech therapy) improved 33% faster than those who used only the traditional speech therapy methods.

Have you or someone you know ever struggled with rhotacism? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Development of Cognitive Skills; Piaget’s theory.

Crawl before you walk, walk before you run! When it comes to development, this phrase is certainly true. Before children learn to talk and are taught to problem solve at school, right from birth, they begin to develop novel ways of communicating and exploring the world around them. They cry to tell you they’re hungry, and go through a stage where it seems they’re trying to eat everything (I’m sure the parents reading this can relate)! These practices enable babies to make sense of the world. As they get older, their way of exploring rapidly evolves. As well as developing the ability to walk and talk, our development of cognitive skills (memory, attention, language, reading comprehension, fine motor and gross motor skills) are developed throughout our childhood.

French Psychologist Jean Piaget, proposed the development of cognitive skills during childhood occurs in 4 distinct stages. Each stage builds upon the previous one. Piaget’s theory was ground breaking at the time, as it was previously thought that children didn’t develop cognitive skills until they began to acquire language. Piaget challenged this, as he found that children explore the world around them before they acquire language by using their different senses. This is known as the sensorimotor stage, which is one of four stages that classify a child’s learning stages. The other three stages are known as the pre-operational stage, concrete operational stage and the formal operational stage. During each stage, children acquire new cognitive skills, whilst developing skills they have acquired in previous stages.

Cognitive development

Development of Cognitive Skills: Sensorimotor stage

This stage lasts from birth to 2 years.

In this stage, children learn about the world using their senses and manipulating objects. Here a child’s intelligence is based on their motor and sensory knowledge. During this stage, children learn of object permanence, i.e. although a toy is out of sight, it still exists. This information is extremely important as it prepares children to be able to name objects.

3 months– Infants are able to recognise faces and imitate facial expressions (above).

6 months– Infants can imitate sounds, recognise their parents and display fear towards strangers. They understand the difference between animate and inanimate objects. Between four and seven months, children begin to recognise their own name.

9 months– Infants imitate gestures and actions. The understand simple words like ‘no’ and begin to test their parents’ response to their behaviour.

12 months– Infants can follow moving objects. They can speak between two to four simple words like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’. They can imitate animal sounds and begin to display attachments to objects such as a toy or blanket. At this age, they will also begin to display separation anxiety.

18 months– Vocabulary increases to around 50 words. Children begin to identify body parts and display sense of ownership. They can follow simple instructions (e.g. picking up toys and putting them in the box). They begin to show an understanding of discipline and have knowledge of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

Development of Cognitive Skills: Pre-operational stage

This stage lasts from 2 – 7 years.

A child’s vocabulary is around 150 words. Around this time, children learn around 10 new words a day, and begin to understand emotions such as love, trust and fear. Children also begin to learn through pretend play, or “make believe”. However, their view of others and logic isn’t well understood, and children have a self-centered view of the world. In this stage, children begin to use their imaginary and memory skills, and begin to develop their social interaction skills and play cooperatively with children their own age. They will begin to develop their cognitive abilities. Children learn to read, develop routines and display an increased attention span. At the beginning of this stage, children develop their attention, long term and short term memory. As children get older, they learn to control their attention and use their cognitive abilities to help them solve problems and achieve their goals. Also during this stage of development, auditory processing is further refined. This is highly important in improving reading skills.

Imaginative play

Development of Cognitive Skills: Concrete operational stage

This stage is from 7-11 years.

During this stage, children learn to be less egocentric and self centered. They begin to think about the thoughts and feelings of others, and they are more aware of their own thoughts and feelings and the rules around sharing them with others. Children are also able to think in a more logic manner and see the world from the view of others. However, at this stage, a child’s thought is often rigid, therefore they tend to struggle with abstract concepts. Here children learn that things, such as volume and weight, can stay the same despite changes in the appearance of objects. For example, two different glasses can hold the same volume of water. Also, at this stage, children’s attention span begins to increase with age. At the age of six, the child may be able to focus on a task for around 15 minutes. At the age of nine, children can focus on a task for around an hour.

Concrete operational stage

Development of Cognitive Skills: Formal operational stage

This stage is from 11 years and upwards.

Children are able to better understand logic and abstract ideas. They will start to reason and think about abstract ideas, and implement these ideas into their lives. They are also able to see multiple solutions to problems, and begin to look at the world in a scientific manner. During this stage, Adolescents display independent problem-solving skills, and are able to understand abstract ideas such puns, proverbs, metaphors, analogies, philosophy and maths. Children also learn to apply general information to specific situations. During adolescence we undergo cognitive transition, which means that the way we think becomes more advanced, more efficient, and more complex. Thought is no longer limited to what is real, it is expanded to include the hypothetical. During this stage we begin thinking about the process of thinking, known as metacognition. Thought becomes multidimensional; we are able to look at multiple outcomes to a specific problem, which allows us to think rationally and analyze the problem. This will hopefully help us to make well-informed decisions.

Every child will progress through each stage in order, but it’s important to remember that each child is different, so that manner or time that it take a child to develop these skills may vary- and that’s OK! Progression through the 4 stages of development can occur at different rates; some faster than others. We all have a unique cognitive profile, some cognitive skills can be weaker than others. A cognitive assessment can help us to identify which of our cognitive skills are weaker. This enables us to tailor our cognitive training, and improve our weaker skills. If you are looking to strengthen your cognitive skills, why not try some brain games! If you are concerned that about your cognitive abilities or the development of a child, it is important to seek professional advice.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, get in touch below! 🙂

Tongue Twisters and Communication: How the Brain Learns Languages

Have you ever wondered how the brain learns languages? Why are we able to communicate so easily? How is it that we can formulate sentences, speak, and comprehend what others are saying in split-seconds? A majority of us think that language is only controlled by our lips, mouths, ears, and hands. However, what most people don’t know is that language originates in the brain. Specifically, our language faculties are located in certain areas of the left hemisphere cortex in healthy adults. A fun fact to know is that the science of neurolinguistics studies the physical structure of the brain as it relates to language production and comprehension. Read more to find out how the brain learns languages!

How the Brain Learns Language

Some scientists have argued that language is what distinguishes humans from all other animals on the planet. Other scholars ask if humans are really the only species to possess language. Of course, other animals communicate with one another, like bees, who send each other messages through their special dances. However, human language is more than just communication. Rather, it is a complex system of brain processing that involves auditory messages used as symbols to convey meaning and function in this complicated world.

Looking Deeper into the Structure of the Human Brain

When discussing the brain as a language organ, some physiological and structural characteristics of our brain must be understood:

  1. Human brains have a contralateral neural control arrangement – this means that the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body.
  2. Each hemisphere has somewhat unique functions, making them asymmetrical. For example, the right hemisphere controls spacial perception, while the left hemisphere controls abstract reasoning and physical tasks that require a step-by-step progression. The left hemisphere is also responsible for language control, which takes place inside the perisylvian area, and this ability is usually fully developed by the time we reach the age of puberty.

Now, why does language originate from the left hemisphere rather than the right? Since the left hemisphere controls patterns that progress step-by-step in a single dimension, it is more apt to control language than the right, which performs complex multi-step tasks. Language is a linear process – sounds and words are uttered one after another in a definite progression, not in multiple directions all at once. In neurolinguistics, this is called monolineal progression. Evidence that language is activated by the left hemisphere comes from PET scans and studies on individuals who suffer from brain injuries.

How the Brain Learns Languages

According to Noam Chomsky, a famous linguist of the late twentieth century, we are all born with a language instinct or language acquisition device (LAD). This is our innate capacity to acquire an extremely creative system of communicating with each other. It seems to be a human genetic trend that everyone possesses: nearly all children exposed to language naturally acquire it as if by magic. Most researchers believe that the LAD is the result of a complex interaction of many genes in the brain that work together to produce and interpret language.

However, it must be noted that the natural ability for humans to acquire language normally diminishes near the age of puberty, which is known as the critical age for fluently acquiring a native tongue. Researchers believe that this phenomenon is connected with the lateralization of language in the left hemisphere. Studies show that children actually use both left and right hemispheres to process language because these brain areas are undeveloped for the time. As children age, their brain structures mature, whereupon the responsibility of language is shifted fully to the left side of the brain. If individuals lose the chance to learn language during their early years before adolescence, then their hemispheres miss the opportunity to mature and develop correctly. Therefore, people who are not exposed to proper language communication during childhood usually are unable to learn to speak a language fluently in adolescence and adulthood. A real-life example of this is the story of Genie Wiley, a feral child who was locked in her dark bedroom for the first thirteen years of her life, tortured by her parents. Because she was not exposed to any form of direct language communication, when she was found at age 13, she was unable to learn language and speak fluently. Her overall abuse resulted in severe consequences that affected her overall ability to interact with others later in life.

See more about the Genie Wiley case below

Aphasias

Injuries of specific parts of the left hemisphere responsible for language acquisition can result in aphasias, or speak impairments. This is caused by damage in the region of the sylvian fissure, in the perisylvian area. The following two types of language loss are associated with harm done to particular sub-regions of the perisylvian area:

1. Broca’s Aphasia

In 1861, Paul Broca discovered Broca’s area, which is located in the frontal portion of the left perisylvian area. This seems to be involved in grammatical processing, specifically concepts like singular vs. plural and tenses. It processes the grammatical structure of sentences rather than the specific units of meaning – instead of focusing on the content of the language, it emphasizes on how words are put together. Broca’s Aphasia involves a difficulty in speaking, whereby it is also known as emissive aphasia. Broca’s aphasics are able to comprehend written and spoken language but have great difficulty in responding in any coherent way. They tend to utter only isolated words without using conjunctions or full sentences to relay their thoughts.

2. Wernicke’s Aphasia

In 1875, Karl Wernicke discovered Wernicke’s area, which is found in the lower posterior part of the perisylvian region. This controls comprehension, as well as the selection of content words. If this area becomes damaged, grammar and function words are preserved, but the content is mostly destroyed. Therefore, Wernicke’s aphasia involves a difficulty in comprehension – people afflicted are unable to extract meaning from language. It’s also known as receptive aphasia because these people are unable to respond at all to those they are conversing with (contrast with Broca’s aphasia, where patients can understand but have difficulty in replying). Wernicke’s aphasics tend to speak incessantly and will utter volumes of grammatically correct nonsense with relatively few content words or with jibberish words like “thingamajig” or “whatchamacallit,” instead of real content words.

More on How the Brain Learns Language

The healthy human brain uses both areas in unison while speaking and processing language. Adults use the neurons of Wernicke’s area to select sounds to listen to, and the neurons of Broca’s area combine these units according to phonology and syntax to produce utterances.

To speak a word that is written on paper (i.e. reading aloud), information first goes to the primary visual cortex. From there, the information is transmitted to the posterior speech area, including Wernicke’s area. From Wernicke’s area, information travels to Broca’s area, and then to the primary motor cortex, whereupon we speak aloud the words we have comprehended from paper. This similar pathway is utilized when we want to repeat words that are heard, but in this situation, information first goes to the primary auditory cortex and then to the posterior speech area.

What Happens When Your Brain Learns A New Language?

According to recent research by Swedish scientists using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiology on lab participants, learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain. Young adult military recruits learned Arabic, Russian, or Dari intensively, while a control group of medical students studied hard on their sciences without learning any new language. The MRI scans showed that specific parts of the brains of the language students developed in size, whereas the brain structures of the control group remained unchanged. The areas of the brain that grew were linked to how easy the learners found the languages, and brain development varied according to performance. Some learners increased the sizes of their hippocampus, while others had an increase in size of the motor region of their cerebral cortex.

Although the implications of this research are not very clear as of yet, they might eventually lead to advances in the use of technology for second-language learners. For example, other researches have used the same ultrasound machinery employed during pregnancy sonograms to explain to language learners how to make sounds by showing them visual images of how their tongue, lips, and jaw should move with their airstream mechanisms and the rise and fall of the soft palate.

Other research, done by Kara Morgan-Short at the University of Illinois at Chicago, used electrophysiology to examine how the brain learns language. She taught second-language learners to speak an artificial language. One group learned through explanations of the rules of the language, and the second group learned by being immersed in the language. While all of the participants learned something from each artificial language, it was the immersed learners who had brain processes like those of native speakers.

Brain imaging research might eventually allow us to shape language learning methods to our cognitive abilities. It can possibly tell us whether we learn best from formal instructions that highlight rules, immersing ourselves in the sounds of the language, or maybe one followed by the other.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Left Brain, Right Brain: 9 Ways Our Brain Hemispheres Work Together

What are the functions of each brain hemisphere? What does each half of our brains do? Is it true that the left side is the analytic hemisphere and the right side the emotional side of the brain? Is it true that the ‘right brain’ is the creative one and the ‘left brain’ is the logical one? In this article, we will reveal everything you need to know about brain hemispheres.

Brain Hemispheres

We have often been told that the left hemisphere of the brain is the analytic, mathematical, and logical side, the side which is in charge of reasoning. You’ve probably also heard that the right hemisphere of the brain is the emotional, creative side.

In fact, people often use this difference as a way to define personality, referring to people as either left-brained or right-brained. “If you are a creative, sensitive, and passionate person, then you use your right hemisphere more; if you are an analytical, organized, and thoughtful person you use your left hemisphere more.” We hear that all the time, so let’s check some facts to see whether there is any truth to this common saying. 

How the Two Hemispheres Work

How do the brain hemispheres work?

There is still a lot left to discover about brain hemispheres but here are some facts we do know:

  • The brain is composed of two well-differentiated halves called hemispheres. These halves are connected by a structure called the corpus callosum, which facilitates communication between the hemispheres. These two hemispheres are in constant communication, and in most activities, both work equally.
  • Experts suggest that our level of intelligence is directly related to the quality of the connection between hemispheres. The more connected they are, the more intellectual we will be, such is the example of Einstein’s brain.
  • Each hemisphere is responsible for the activity on the opposite side of the body. That is, the right hemisphere will be responsible for the movements of the left side of the body and vice versa. Therefore, an injury to the left brain will have an impact on the right side of the body.
  • The processing of visual and auditory stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception and artistic ability is found bilaterally, although they may show some superiority in the right hemisphere.
  • Contrary to what was thought until recently, according to a study, the visual processing of numbers is performed by both hemispheres equally.

What Do The Two Sides of the Brain Do?

The Right Hemisphere of the Brain:

It deals, to a greater extent, with the following functions:

  • The consciousness of oneself.
  • Recognizing our image in a mirror.
  • Facial recognition.
  • Processing the emotional part of language, such as prosody and intonation.
  • Feelings associated with intense romantic love.
  • Managing visual-spatial attention.

The Left Hemisphere of the Brain

The left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for:

  • Understanding and producing language.
  • Mathematical abilities and recalling facts.
  • Processing attractive faces.

In the next video, Ian Mcgilchrist explains why our brain is divided into two hemispheres, and what each one is responsible for.

The Two Hemispheres and Brain Lateralization

Brain lateralization is the idea that some brain functions rely more heavily on one hemisphere than on another. One example of this is when we process language. The left hemisphere is in charge of language processing for the most part, whereas the right hemisphere only processes verbal information in relation to emotion. However, it has recently been discovered that speech is processed in both hemispheres equally, so perhaps language is not as lateralized as we previously thought. 

Likewise, it was believed that a left-handed person’s brain was less lateralized for language development. That is, it was believed that these people would use more of the right brain hemisphere for language, contrary to the general right-handed population. It has been proven that this only happens in 1% of the left-handed population. 

It was even found that the degree of lateralization of some brain functions may vary from individual to individual.

Our brain is lateralized in some of its functions, however, most of these happen in both hemispheres. If a brain region or even a whole hemisphere is damaged or destroyed, other neighboring areas or even the opposite hemisphere may, in some cases, take over the activity typically performed by the damaged region. When brain damage interferes in the connections between one area and another, alternative connections can be developed to bridge the difficulties. This is only possible thanks to the brain’s great ability to adapt, which is called brain plasticity.

Brain Hemispheres: Do we use one more than the other?

A study from the University of Utah, USA, dismantled these myths:

There is no evidence that people use one of the brain hemispheres more than the other. This group of researchers identified brain networks in charge of process lateralized functions (brain functions that are processed more in one hemisphere than another), to see if it was true that some people used more one of the brain hemispheres more than the other.

During the study, the researchers analyzed the brains of 1,000 people and found that no individual was consistently using one hemisphere over another. They concluded that no personality type is related to the greater use of the left or right hemisphere.

Therefore, it is false that some people use one brain hemisphere more than another depending on their personality. Some functions may be specialized in a particular cerebral hemisphere, but the truth is that we use both hemispheres equally. 

Some functions may be specific to a particular brain hemisphere; however, we use both brain hemispheres equally. Even though one hemisphere is specific for a function, it will always work better in continuous communication with the other hemisphere.Scientists can’t even establish that the right hemisphere is our creative brain. Creativity is a very complex process. According to a study, creative thinking does not seem to depend on a single mental process or brain region. Nor is it particularly associated with the right brain, attention, low level of activation, or synchronization with the alpha waves emitted by our brain.

Where Did the Myth of the Right Brain and the Left Brain Come From?

This myth arose from the misinterpretation of Roger Sperry’s experiments on divided brains. Studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry found that cutting corpus callosum could reduce or eliminate epileptic seizures.

However, these patients also suffered other symptoms after communication channels between the brain hemispheres were severed. For example, many brain-split patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed on the right side (those in the left visual field) but were able to name those processed on the left side (those in the right field of vision).

From this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled exclusively by the left side of the brain.

We hoped you liked our article and please feel free to comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Language protein in brain differs by sex

Language protein in brain differs by sex

Language protein in brain differs by sex.

Males and females acquire language differently: it has been well documented in children, where on average girls tend to speak earlier, with greater complexity, than boys. We also know that animals differ by sex in the ways they communicate.

Now a new study from the US may go some way to explaining why, because it finds that the brains of male rat pups contain more “language protein” than their female counterparts, while in humans it appears to be the other way around, boys have less than girls.

Brain structure of infants predicts language skills at one year

Brain structure of infants predicts language skills at one year.

Using a brain-imaging technique that examines the entire infant brain, researchers have found that the anatomy of certain brain areas – the hippocampus and cerebellum – can predict children’s language abilities at 1 year of age.

Children’s language skills soar after they reach their first birthdays, but little is known about how infants’ early brain development seeds that path. Identifying which brain areas are related to early language learning could provide a first glimpse of development going awry, allowing for treatments to begin earlier.

Your unconscious brain can do math, process language

Your unconscious brain can do math, process language.

The unconscious brain may not be able to ace an SAT test, but new brain research suggests that it can handle more complex language processing and arithmetic tasks than anyone has previously believed. According to these findings, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we may be blithely unaware of all the hard work the unconscious brain is doing.