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After about a year, give or take, of staring and babbling, babies eventually begin to say their first words. Millions of parents all over the world know this. Now, researchers at Indiana University and the Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered new clues about how that actually happens—how babies learn those initial words. That might sound obvious, but Linda Smith, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana and senior author of the study, insists the work may provide the basis for new theories of how infants acquire language, and even how children with language deficits and autism are treated.

Researchers have known for some time that by about age 2, kids can use things like social cues and context to figure out which words and objects go together. By that age, toddlers are very good at grouping things into categories. All that was clear was that the baby could—somehow. They put head cameras on 8- to month-olds to look at egocentric vision—basically, what each baby saw during the day. Many people assume, Smith told me during a phone conversation, that what babies and adults see is pretty much the same.

But that turns out not to be the case, Smith said. As a baby develops, his visual world changes, Smith added, meaning a 3-month-old has an entirely different set of visual experiences than does a 1-year-old, who will have different experiences than a 2-year-old. The researchers wanted to get a sense of the visual worlds of babies who are just shy of the age at which children utter their first words. They decided to focus on mealtimes, because babies eat multiple times each day, often in different contexts—say, in a high chair at breakfast and then in a stroller a couple of hours later on the way to the park.

In other words, babies see stuff all day long—toys and pets, tables and chairs, clothes and food. But what they look at often varies. There are a limited number of things—a bottle, for example—that babies see each time they eat. The researchers suggest that visual experience is the key element in learning first words. That could have implications for how kids with delayed speech and other disorders are treated: potentially through visuals rather than something else.

Peer interaction provides children with a different experience filled with special humour, disagreements and conversational topics. English learners have been found to map novel labels to objects more reliably than to actions compared to Mandarin learners. This early noun bias in English learners is caused by the culturally reinforced tendency for English speaking caregivers to engage in a significant amount of ostensive labelling as well as noun-friendly activities such as picture book reading.

Both Mandarin and Cantonese languages have a category of grammatical function word called a noun classifier , which is also common across many genetically unrelated East Asian languages. In Cantonese, classifiers are obligatory and specific in more situations than in Mandarin. This accounts for the research found on Mandarin-speaking children outperforming Cantonese-speaking children in relation to the size of their vocabulary.

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Pragmatic directions provide children with additional information about the speaker's intended meaning. Children's learning of new word meanings is guided by the pragmatic directions that adults offer, such as explicit links to word meanings. These pragmatic directions provide children with essential information about language, allowing them to make inferences about possible meanings for unfamiliar words.

When children are provided with two words related by inclusion, they hold on to that information.


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When children hear an adult say an incorrect word, and then repair their mistake by stating the correct word, children take into account the repair when assigning meanings to the two words. Vocabulary development during the school years builds upon what the child already knows, and the child uses this knowledge to broaden his or her vocabulary.

Timmy's First Words in English | LearnEnglish Kids | British Council

Once children have gained a level of vocabulary knowledge, new words are learned through explanations using familiar, or "old" words. This is done either explicitly, when a new word is defined using old words, or implicitly, when the word is set in the context of old words so that the meaning of the new word is constrained.

This growth tends to slow once a person finishes schooling, as they have already acquired the vocabulary used in everyday conversation and reading material and generally are not engaging in activities that require additional vocabulary development. During the first few years of life, children are mastering concrete words such as "car", "bottle", "dog", "cat".

funny baby says first words – cute compilation

By age 3, children are likely able to learn these concrete words without the need for a visual reference, so word learning tends to accelerate around this age. By age 6, they have approximately 2, words of expressive vocabulary and 20,—24, words of receptive vocabulary. From age 6 to 8, the average child in school is learning 6—7 words per day, and from age 8 to 10, approximately 12 words per day.

Exposure to conversations and engaging in conversation with others help school-age children develop vocabulary. Fast mapping is the process of learning a new concept upon a single exposure and is used in word learning not only by infants and toddlers, but by preschool children and adults as well. Reading is considered to be a key element of vocabulary development in school-age children.

Vocabulary development

These two forms of vocabulary are usually equal up until grade 3. Because written language is much more diverse than spoken language, print vocabulary begins to expand beyond oral vocabulary. Generally, both conversation and reading involve at least one of the four principles of context that are used in word learning and vocabulary development: physical context, prior knowledge, social context and semantic support. Physical context involves the presence of an object or action that is also the topic of conversation.

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With the use of physical context, the child is exposed to both the words and a visual reference of the word. This is frequently used with infants and toddlers, but can be very beneficial for school-age children, especially when learning rare or infrequently used words. When engaging in play with an adult, a child's vocabulary is developed through discussion of the toys, such as naming the object e. Past experiences or general knowledge is often called upon in conversation, so it is a useful context for children to learn words. Calling upon prior knowledge is used not only in conversation, but often in book reading as well to help explain what is happening in a story by relating it back to the child's own experiences.

Social context involves pointing out social norms and violations of these norms. A child's understanding of social norms can help them to infer the meaning of words that occur in conversation. In an English-speaking tradition, "please" and "thank you" are taught to children at a very early age, so they are very familiar to the child by school-age.


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For example, if a group of people is eating a meal with the child present and one person says, "give me the bread" and another responds with, "that was rude. What do you say? Semantic support is the most obvious method of vocabulary development in school-age children. It involves giving direct verbal information of the meaning of a word. For example, a child might see a zebra for the first time and ask, what is that? It is like a horse with stripes and it is wild so you cannot ride it. Memory plays an important role in vocabulary development, however the exact role that it plays is disputed in the literature.

Specifically, short-term memory and how its capacities work with vocabulary development is questioned by many researchers [ who? The phonology of words has proven to be beneficial to vocabulary development when children begin school. Once children have developed a vocabulary, they utilize the sounds that they already know to learn new words. This information is then stored in the phonological memory, a part of short term memory.

Research shows that children's capacities in the area of phonological memory are linked to vocabulary knowledge when children first begin school at age 4—5 years old. As memory capabilities tend to increase with age between age 4 and adolescence , so does an individual's ability to learn more complex vocabulary. Serial-order short-term memory may be critical to the development of vocabulary. In this theory, the specific order or sequence of phonological events is used to learn new words, rather than phonology as a whole. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Process of learning words.

Main article: Phonological development. Main article: Babbling. Anglin, Jeremy M. Vocabulary Development: A Morphological Analysis. Baker, Anne The linguistics of sign languages: an introduction.