Feeds

Maths might tell us how kids learn language

How vocab grows from zero to 60,000

Top three mobile application threats

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 ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
KILLER ROBOTS, DNA TAMPERING and PEEPING CYBORGS: the future looks bright!
Americans optimistic about technology despite being afraid of EVERYTHING
R.I.P. LADEE: Probe smashes into lunar surface at 3,600mph
Swan dive signs off successful science mission
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.