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Author Topic: Recent Discoveries on Babies' Language Learning Abilities  (Read 14441 times)
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KL
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« on: October 28, 2009, 06:50:00 AM »

Just finished watching a very very interesting video of a speech by Patricia Kuhl, who's the Endowed Chair for Early Childhood Learning at the University of Washington. (thanks to Cris mother of G and GG for bringing it to my attention!)

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/Fcb8nT0QC6o&rel=1" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/v/Fcb8nT0QC6o&rel=1</a>

It's a long video, and I took notes, see further below.

I will just highlight some of the key points in this video:

1. The critical period for language learning begins from after 7 months of age. From this time onwards, the ability to distinguish between sounds starts to decline if exposure is not there.  You can already see a significant decline from 7 months to 12 months in the ability of babies to distinguish foreign language sounds where the babies are not exposed to those sounds.

2. The reason for this is that the baby starts to take stats of what they hear, and their neurons start to gear themselves to what they are hearing.  This is basically the "use it or lose it" principle.

3. With just 12 sessions of 25 minutes each during this time period where babies are exposed to the foreign language, the language ability of that baby was found to be NO DIFFERENT compared with a baby who was in the foreign country!

4. Exposing babies to just foreign language videos or audio tapes MAKE NO DIFFERENCE (ie., they do not work!).  The key is INTERACTION.  The degree of interaction seems to determine how much the baby's brain decides to pay attention to (or take stats of) the foreign language that is being heard.


------------
NOTES:

6m:40s - start of talk by Patricia Kuhl

14.45 - Graph shows critical period for acquisition of language. Starts to decline from around 7.

Neural network starts to get committed to a particular language or languages early on, and becomes an interference to other languages later on.

22:00 - Up to 6 months of age, babies are "citizens of the world" - can distinguish between sounds of any language. Soon after, ability to distinguish diminishes rapidly.
Babies takes statistics and do analysis on what they hear, and fine-tunes their ability to distinguish based on what they hear the most. Gives example of how a Japanese baby starts to lose ability to distinguish between 'l' and 'r' compared with an American baby.

34 mins - Chart shows relationship between native and foreign language learning.

"As you map your brain for English, you're giving up Japanese and French unless you are being exposed to it. It's the learning itself that changes the brain that causes this decline in foreign language abilities."

First discovery: Children who are advancing faster on native language abilities are also declining faster on foreign language abilities.

Second discovery:

35 mins - charts show that babies who had better native speech sound perception at 7.5 months had better language abilities at 24 months (could produce more words, language complexity, length of sentences). Better perception leads to faster language growth. 

However, based on first discovery, they also found that this has the opposite effect on foreign language ability (because babies had been committing themselves earlier to the native language).

38 mins - exposed American babies to mandarin sounds between the critical period of 7-9 months - just 12 sessions, 25 minutes each, 4 different talkers, about 33,000 syllables. Result was that those American babies were statistically identically to the Taiwanese babies.

43 mins - did test to see whether babies can learn from just TV or audio tapes playing foreign language content. Audio - absolutely no effect. TV also none!  Social interaction is key! The social brain determines when it's worth taking language statistics.

46 mins - Studies also showing that the degree of interaction also determines degree of increase of language ability.  Also found that the 12 sessions of exposure improved babies' cognitive skills.



« Last Edit: February 27, 2010, 05:32:21 AM by KL » Logged

krb
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« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2009, 02:58:29 PM »

Fascinating  research. It leaves me confused on two issues primarily. Perhaps someone can help me.

1. First it seems that babies are hardwired to prune away the language sounds that aren't routinely heard, therefore becoming stronger in their native tongue. And that the better an infant is at this native language acquisition, the better their vocabulary and ability to structure sentences at around 24 months(?). However, those babies with the best native language acquisition tend to be the worst at foreign language because of this "use or lose it" principal. So my question is Will the teaching of foreign languages at this critical timeframe slow the process of native language mastery? And if so, does the benefits of mutli-linguistics trump the advantage of early native language mastery? Or should one wait until after 2 years to begin, since the propensity to learn a foreign language stays rather high until approximately 7 years of age?

2. This research shows that personal interaction is the only effective means for an infant to master a foreign language (or stay on track with the native foreign infants), but what about the Right Brain theory that babies purportedly can learn via the subconscious, and just the mere playing of audio is beneficial. Is this now negated, or was this study not set up to determine this or did I incorrectly understand the relationship between foreign languages and the Right Brain? Of course personal interaction is always best, but I am trying to determine if it even makes sense to expose my little one to a foreign language if it isn't from a live teacher. Thanks.

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patreiche
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« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2009, 03:30:28 PM »

I do not believe children can learn by simply hearing a language. The key to teaching them young is so they can sound native and so they won't ignore it. Have you ever been around anyone speaking a foreign language. You just ignore it because you do not understand it. Once your child has mastered their language sounds it is difficult for them to learn the different sounds of another language. The older they get the harder it is. If your child learns their native language faster it is harder to teach them another language. My grandson is just speaking with two words but already wants to tune out another language.

On the other hand if they are learning two or more languages at a time, I think it will delay them with their native language. Do you think your child would learn English if you just played them tapes or they just watched videos. They need the interation and they need to see the importance of it. We do not learn a foreign language because it is not important to our lives. If we all of a sudden were dropped in another country we would learn the language. It is a matter of survival. Your child is learning what he needs to learn to survive and communicate with you. Something that is not relevant he will ignore. That was the findings of this study and I agree. That is why they say to learn a language you need to be immersed. I do not think there is any other way to learn a language. You need a person who interacts with your child and plays with them so they want to learn the language to communicate with that person.

Videos, LR in different languages, songs etc can be used to supplement a person who speaks the language to help them progress more quickly. But you need someone who speaks the language to work with them.

« Last Edit: October 28, 2009, 03:36:30 PM by patreiche » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2009, 03:59:48 PM »

Thank you for your feedback. I did not mean to imply and therefore ask if a child coud learn a foreign language simply by listening to an audio tape, but if used as a tool in the right brain subconscious would it help a child to recognize the different vowel and consonant sounds of that particular language and therefore make the job of eventually learning a language easier. As a foreign exchange student in my youth, I absolutely understand the importance of immersion. I am just trying to make sense of this whole right brain philosophy. It can be somewhat confusing.

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Cris mother of G and GG
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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2009, 04:36:44 AM »

Hi KRB, Patreiche and KL,

I'm very interested in this video, as my girls are exposed to English and Portuguese, and my eldest was always exposed to both languages and could articulate very well ahead of her pears in English, so much so that people would always ask me: -How old is she again? She speaks very well for her age. I also had her tested due to a stuttering problem she presented a 27 months (apparently quiet common in toddlers), and the Speech Pathologist results were that her speech was of a 3,5 years old (I knew she was ahead but obviously could not guess that was by that much). 

I think some of the comments you guys made about the study above were unfortunately incorrect. I’ve seen this video at least 3 times and some of the comments you made were not quite correct.

KL, you said:

"35 mins - charts show that babies who had better native speech sound perception at 7.5 months had better language abilities at 24 months (could produce more words, language complexity, length of sentences). Better perception leads to faster language growth. 

However, based on first discovery, they also found that this has the opposite effect on foreign language ability (because babies had been committing themselves earlier to the native language)"

34 mins - She also says: Unless they've being exposed to it. So it seems they have only tested babies exposed to one language, otherwise it would be presented differently.

So please, let’s not jump to the wrong conclusion, that we should not expose our kids to 2 or 3 languages (if we can).

The study did not mention that babies would have difficult learning another language, absolutely not. They just said that they loose the natural ability to differentiate the sounds as they first did at 7 months.

42 min. - They actually said that if a child were exposed to mandarin for 12 sessions, they had statistically the same capability to take the language statistics as the babies in Taiwan. Meaning they would differentiate the sounds of both languages without a problem. They did not say that they could in fact speak mandarin, all they said is that they were cappable of listening to all the +30K sounds produced by 4 different people.

Patreiche, you also said "You need a person who interacts with your child and plays with them so they want to learn the language to communicate with that person." - I could not agree more with you... why would anyone learn a language that no one else could understand? I mention how wonderful my daughter English was, but notice I said nothing about her Portuguese, yes, because although I spoken to her in Portuguese, she only answered back in English (kind of disappoint and frustrating to tell you the truth), but I kept going and once we moved to an area where she saw other kids speaking Portuguese, she just began talking and it was beautiful… it was like Xmas for me…
And I truly believe it is because she could communicate with others (not only with me) and it made sense for her to be part of that group that could also speak Portuguese (she was so proud of herself)…

I hope you guys can see the study again and we can have more information exchanged about it... so fascinating...

cheers

Cris

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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2009, 04:58:37 AM »

Patreiche, I agree with you that a child learns a foreign language almost all by being with a person of that language. I dont have the situation at the moment, so I am doing the dvds, cds, foreign language LR etc. I dont think they are all useless...
I think songs in that language are helpful...the catchier the better. They stick with you. Many years later. We all remember Frere Jacques dont we? And could probably translate it, even if we didnt know the equivalent Brother John.
I also think the LR, flashcards etc are all beneficial for learning to read and write the language...and if the right brain people are correct, all that info is stored in there somewhere even if not added to for many years. So if my kids learn French words now, but we forget about it for a few years, if we take it up again, it should be easier for them than if they had done none of that.
Reinforcement IS the best way, but something is better than nothing.
My 23.5 month old is exposed to a lot of languages via cd, dvd etc, though all spoken at home is English. She is the best English speaker of all my children. A few days ago she said "where did the bubby go?" and "where's the bubby gone?" when I put the baby down for a nap. Those are full sentences!! (5 words, a short sentence, but a complete one). So if it limiting her, I'm sure she'll make up for it in other ways. The languages she hears in the background have got to be good for her brain...the neural pathways etc, surely??

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KL
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« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2009, 06:00:31 AM »

Hi Cris,

Thanks for your comments.

Actually, what I wrote does not contradict what you said, but thanks for the clarification.  Let me restate what I said.

35 mins - charts show that babies who had better native speech sound perception at 7.5 months had better language abilities at 24 months (could produce more words, language complexity, length of sentences). Better perception leads to faster language growth. 

However, based on first discovery, they also found that this has the opposite effect on foreign language ability (because babies had been committing themselves earlier to the native language).

Yes, you're absolutely right, Cris, that the second paragraph above is said on the assumption of a child being exposed to just one language (the native language).  The point here is not that children cannot/should not learn foreign languages, but that if they don't do it, then the ability to do so diminishes.

The point Dr. Kuhl was making was that if you don't expose your child to foreign languages, then as the child learns her native language, she will start to specialize her language abilities based on that native language only (because she only has that language to take stats from).

Dr. Kuhl (and my summary) follows on by saying that so long as you expose your child to the foreign language during that period (and it only takes a small amount of time!), then the child's ability for that foreign language is maintained.

Thanks for helping me make these points clearer! smile

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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2009, 08:56:57 AM »

KRB,
I believe the problem with your child speaking Portuguese was that you probably spoke English with her also or maybe it was the group as you suggest. If she knew she could communicate with you in English there was no survival to speak the new language. You need a person they want to communicate with that either can not or will not communicate with them in the other language.

Nikita,
I totally understand because I have the same problem. I am looking for a person to play with my grandson and teach him a foreign language or a playgroup. The other things serve as a vocabulary builder so if they ever get immersed it should assist them learning the language.

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« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2009, 09:57:00 AM »

This report is interesting not only from a foreign language point of view and may explain partly why children did so badly watching Baby Einstein videos - seems it doesn't matter what you play them they will do worse on communication skills if human contact is needed whether it is in their native language or a foreign language.

It is also well known that children who live in bilingual households will learn better than a child who lives in a family that all speak the same language even if you try hard to teach them a foreign language - seems teaching is never as good as pure exposure. Does that mean don't teach - no, it just means that it will be harder. If you had the choice between teaching and exposure by using someone who only spoke that language it would be better to choose the speaker obviously.

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« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2009, 10:30:06 AM »

But my grandson has learned several things from videos too. He learned a lot from "Your Baby Can Read". He has learned from Brainy Baby's "Laugh and Learn" video. These are videos I highly recommend. Baby Einstein did not work because it was more of a commercial. I think the video and how it is done can makes a difference. But what they are learning in the video has to be relevant to their world. A foreign language with no one around them speaking the language isn't going to make them fluent in a language. How much does it help, I am not sure. My grandson watches Pocoyo from YOUTUBE. He loves it and laughs. Is he learning Spanish, I am not sure?

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« Reply #10 on: October 29, 2009, 01:58:02 PM »

Hi KRB, Patreiche and KL,

So please, let’s not jump to the wrong conclusion, that we should not expose our kids to 2 or 3 languages (if we can).

Cris

I can not see where that conclusion was reached by my questions. Asking for clarification of the findings and how this pertains to right brain teaching was my objective. 

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« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2009, 10:18:16 PM »

Hi Krb,

Dont cut and paste things out of order, I just referred to your name because there were only 3 people in this subject...

I was just concerned that people would jump to the wrong conclusion without watching the whole video, that was all, because I didnt assume everyone would take or have the time to watch the whole video...

Sorry if that botter you... I really didnt mean.

cheers

Cris

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« Reply #12 on: October 29, 2009, 10:52:14 PM »

Cris,

Thanks. I appreciate the clarification.
I do think I will follow your suit and re-watch the video after putting my little one down.  smile

krb

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« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2009, 09:03:03 AM »

I understand completely that they are not going to learn a native language or foreign language if they are not interacting with other humans who speak the language.

Does that mean that we should not expose them to other languages through DVD or CD? I think we should still do that even if they do not pick up the sounds? Is some exposure better than non at all? Or should we just never by foreign language dvds for our children ever again and only find teachers? What if you can't find a teacher or live in a remote area?


If any one can enlighten on these questions that would help?

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« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2009, 12:11:14 PM »

>> Does that mean that we should not expose them to other languages through DVD or CD? 

I think, it depends on age! This research is based on 6 - 9 months old babies which need personal contact all the time. We, as adults, can learn languages through DVDs. Six month old babies cannot, maybe  (but we can always ask on the methods of research; may be there will be difference after 5 years etc.). There must be some transition - as baby grows older she can understand and use DVDs better.

My kid (2.4) watches Dora the explorer in Russian, with some English words. She say's "jump" (in English) at every pool, and sometimes she is also responding to questions in this movie. I don't know what she understands in Russian because I never speak this language except I sometimes translate some keywords.
We watch also LR in English, and I translate. She likes it only if we include the new English words in other activities. For example, we discuss, where is your "chin" (in English), and we name colours and toy animals. If we do not do this, she say's "no" to LR.

So I think watching foreign DVDs is useful, at least after 1.5 - 2 years.


P.S. I am commenting this discussion only because that video link is crashing my Explorer every time.

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