Re: We don't "learn" language!

Subject: Re: We don't "learn" language!
From: Romay Jean Sitze <rositze -at- NMSU -dot- EDU>
Date: Wed, 6 Dec 1995 09:26:43 -0700

Several posts have had a theme similar to Caryn's in claiming that we
don't teach our children how to speak. I respectfully disagree. There
are many ways of teaching, and different techniques that work best at
different ages. One of the most effective is by example. I have 40+
years experience in working with children including infants and
preschoolers as well as older children. I taught my own children how to
speak and influenced the speech patterns of others. I don't know about
you, but I spent a lot of time coaxing my children to form specific
sounds and word patterns. ("Say, ma-ma" or "Say, da-da' to start, for
example. I made sure they were provided with opportunities to hear and
relate sounds to concepts or objects--by reading to and speaking with the
children. I corrected improper patterns. Certainly I didn't try to teach
a one year old about participles by name--but they were exposed by
example to their correct usage--and that IS a form of teaching.

Learning is accomplished for all of us in a step-by-step fashion.
Whether the teaching is formal, or informal, much of what we know if
taught to us by one means or another. True, we eventually reach a point
where we can begin teaching ourselves, in that we gain the necessary
tools and confidence to begin exploring new ideas, vocabulary, etc. on
our own. And to a great extent, this begins quite early. And any good
teacher will tell you that one of the primary joys of teaching is seeing
a child who explores new things on his own. But you also see those same
children coming back for help when they get stuck--or you offer
suggestions (teaching, again) when they mispronounce a word or use a tool
incorrectly. I would venture to say that the most effective teaching is
simply offering the guidance a student needs to master a concept or
skill--whether in the form of formal instruction, guided practice, or
gentle suggestions and course corrections.

On Tue, 5 Dec 1995, Caryn Rizell wrote:

> Item Subject: We don't "learn" language!
> I don't know how this thread started, but it is interesting. You are
> right: we don't teach our children how to speak. I am continually amazed
> at the ability of my 2 1/2 yr son to form sentences, and correctly use such
> constructs as 'you and I', 'do, did, does', etc. We certainly didn't sit
> down with him and teach him about present and past tense, first and second
> person, etc!

> Caryn Rizell
> caryn_rizell -at- hp-roseville-om2 -dot- om -dot- hp -dot- com

> ______________________________ Reply Separator
> Subject: We don't "learn" language!
> Author: Non-HP-TECHWR-L (TECHWR-L -at- VM1 -dot- ucc -dot- okstate -dot- edu) at
> Date: 12/5/95 10:00 AM

> One of the requirements for my master's in technical and professional
> writing is a class in linguistics, which I'm taking now. It's fascinating!
> One of my favorite topics is that of language acquisition.

> Current thinking in the field of socio- and neurolinguistics is that we
> don't "learn" language - we are born with a universal grammar prewired in
> our brains. If you think about it, little kids ask about vocabulary - they
> don't ask about grammar. They want to know the word for juice, but they
> don't ask their parents about how to form a question. They need to learn the
> vocabulary of their native language, but they already have the rules for
> putting those words together.

> When a child learns to talk, much of the processing that occurs is the
> testing of those rules. How often have you corrected a small child, only to
> have them persist in ungrammatical ways? Example: "I have two feets." "I
> goed to the store." The kid isn't ignoring you - he or she is just trying
> out rules that had worked previously for them. They know that adding -ed to
> a verb frequently forms the past participle, so they try that rule on
> everything. Eventually, they understand corollaries and exceptions in their
> native language.

> Clarification: When I say that we're born knowing the rules, we don't
> actually have a neuron pre-wired that fires off "Add -ed to form the past
> participle." What we do have is some "thing" - some learning pattern, some
> capacity - that allows us to know and recognize the grammar of our native
> language, and practice those patterns until we get them right.

> I refer you to the work of Noam Chomsky, a linguistics professor at MIT who
> really pioneered thinking in this area. But those of you who have children,
> think about how they "learned" to talk. Trust me - you didn't teach them to
> talk! What you did provide, however, is an environment for your children to
> test and try out their "hypotheses." It is a known fact that normal, healthy
> children deprived of an environment in which people listened and spoke with
> them do not learn to speak.

> There is a parallel for users of American Sign Language (ASL), which is as
> valid a language as French or Gaelic or Samoan. Deaf children of deaf
> parents go through the same process of language acquisition as do hearing
> children. Deaf children "babble," albeit with hand and finger signs. They
> learn words, and then sign sentences on their own, putting the word signs
> together.

> It's a fascinating topic, as is linguistics in general, and I'm very glad
> it's a requirement! It's helped me understand language as a whole - how it
> evolves, how the rules of all languages are more alike then different. And
> boy, can I diagram a sentence now!

RoMay Sitze, rositze -at- nmsu -dot- edu

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