language acquisition, PSYCHOLOGY & Medicine

  • Violeta Osegueda

Language Acquisition

For all children, language acquisition begins at birth as babies start recognizing the sounds of their native language(s). Pediatric milestone evaluations include assessing timely language development, with the most simplified version of grammar and lexical acquisition assessments as two-word sentences at age two and three-word sentences at three. More robust measurements of language development are utilized in developmental delay clinical follow-ups and linguistics studies.

Language acquisition is one measure of cognitive function as its progression is an important component for effective communication and learning. Severe language delays or persistent deficits may cause significant impacts and be considered a disability when they interfere with daily functioning. Researchers recommend supporting language acquisition through rich verbal and social contexts, especially when children are learning more than one language. Bilingualism presents an added challenge to evaluating language acquisition and in the framework of other conditions linked to developmental delays such as autism, assessing language milestones may require more refined screening methods.

Language Acquisition in Bilinguals

Simultaneous dual language acquisition presents additional challenges for young children. Simultaneous bilingualism is differentiated from second language acquisition, where the first is defined as early enough exposure to two languages to be considered as learned together. However, there is no clear consensus on the age at which learning another language is considered a second language (L2). There is no set age cut-off for bilingual exposure, but literature review shows 2-3 years old as the latest age by which children are considered simultaneous dual language learners. This age is determined by their outward demonstration of an awareness for dual-language usage. Introduction of an L2 after that age is generally considered second language learning.

For bilingual development, there are two main models in linguistic research: the unitary language system hypothesis and dual language system hypothesis. The unitary language system hypothesis emphasizes the funneling of input from both language into one linguistic system, where one set of grammatical rules are applied to both languages in the initial stage of language learning for bilingual children. The languages separate into two linguistic systems at around age 3, much like their bilingual adult counterparts. In contrast, the dual language system hypothesis presents bilingualism as a process established as early as at birth into two separate linguistic systems, and this is the dominant model currently supported by research. Research has shown infants’ ability to distinguish between both languages through studies on phonology and grammar. However, this establishment of separate systems does not exclude cross-linguistic influences. Young dual-language learners transfer rules of one language to the other in their early years, and by elementary school will be better at distinguishing those rulesets.

  • Violeta Osegueda

As a psycholinguistics undergraduate student, I was fascinated by the scientific aspects of language development. I was never interested in following the pathway of a speech language pathologist, nor did I end up pursuing psychology professionally. This confused my parents and extended family members immensely. This also lead to several family discussions on how half a B.A. in psychology does not equate to a clinical psychologist. I also minored in Cognitive Science and Global Studies, and attempted a Specialization in Computing before, ironically, the Programming for Internet course ended that short-lived coding dream. I used to know the International Phonetic Alphabet by heart and could create intricate syntax trees from convoluted [clearly run-on] sentences. I could even identify distinctive African clicks, and produce them up until I had an internal mouth gear placed during my awkward adult braces phase. I enjoyed jumbling up French, Spanish, Samoan, and indigenous languages in the pursuit of limited acquisition. Fortunately, my brief academic adventures in random courses and research labs were not trivial experiences to be reduced to quirky entries in my medical school application.

Years later, I remained interested in bilingual English/Spanish memory and language processing. This is one of the books I discovered when looking at bilingual pathology. My goal in this blog is in part to discuss briefly some of these major pathologies we may come to identify in our patients, our friends, or even in ourselves.

This blog will be a place for examining language as both an art-form and a scientific discipline. Expect plenty of wugs, Noam Chomsky references, and learning opportunities.

Even if you're ESL* , we got something for you to supplement your lessons.

*Trying to make ESL happen - reclaiming this as Español Sin Limites for our Medical Spanish students.