Feeds

Maths might tell us how kids learn language

How vocab grows from zero to 60,000

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A psychology professor reckons he has found a mathematical explanation for the "learning spurt" children experience while learning language.

How children learn language so quickly has long been debated. One explanation is the "grammar gene" or language instinct posited by Stephen Pinker which suggests children, for a limited period, have an inherent ability to decode the grammatical function of words which helps them memorise and use them.

From about a year and a half until five or six years kids can quickly absorb language. Children unfortunate enough to have not learnt any language by that age will struggle to ever learn any language perfectly. Similarly, adults learning a second language will struggle to ever be as accurate as a child who learnt the language before they were seven.

Bob McMurray, assistant psychology professor at the University of Iowa, says the spurt in language aquisition can be explained if two theories hold true - that children learn more than one word at a time and they learn more difficult or moderate words than easy words. McMurray found that whenever these two are true then children will experience an explosion in the number of words they pick up.

McMurray said: "Children are going to get that word spurt guaranteed, mathematically, as long as a couple of conditions hold. They have to be learning more than one word at a time, and they must be learning a greater number of difficult or moderate words than easy words. Using computer simulations and mathematical analysis, I found that if those two conditions are true, you always get a vocabulary explosion."

The average English speaker has a vocabulary of about 50,000 words but probably only uses between 5,000 and 10,000 regularly.

More on Bob McMurray here, or there's a press release from the university here.

There's more on the language instinct here ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.