L1
First Language Acquisition
or
How Do Children Learn to Speak?
Bridget Green MFWI Extension Linguistics 2007; based on a handout by Maggie Dale
First Language Acquisition
First stage
 Babbling
 5-10 months
 Consonant + vowel

input
You are such a
beautiful baby.
output
At first, all babies babble in the same way no
Ba!
matter what language
they hear!
First Language Acquisition
Begins
to demonstrate comprehension…
“Silent Period”
Kisses!
Where’s your belly?
Wanna go bye-bye?
Where’s the fish/kitty/birdie?
Get a book and I’ll read to you.
No, thank you!
(Does.)
(Points.)
(Gets her coat.)
(Points.)
(Does.)Not silent!
(Stops
doing
she’s
doing.)
Baga
bow
ri?what
Dada
mama
baba!
Now, babies babble only in sounds
that they hear in their language!
First Language Acquisition
Second stage
 Begins production
 12-18 months
 One word ‘sentences’ like “Mama”, “Dada”,
“Baba” become real words…

(14 months) Echoes:
“Say, More please.” Nya Nya!
“Night, night.” Nie Nie.
(On the ‘phone’) Doh?
(Seeing a hot fire) Ta!
First Language Acquisition
Third stage
 18 months - 2 years
 Two word sentences

Da mohk!
Ah dun. Ah gahn.
Wa pipuh?
Ah me peez.
Towtee.
Who da peepoh?
But what
does it
mean?
The milk!
All done. All gone.
Where’s the paper?
Help me, please.
It’s dirty.
Who are those people?
First Language Acquisition



Third stage
18 months - 2 years
Two word sentences
Da mohk!
Ah dun. Ah gahn.
Wa pipuh?
Ah me peez.
Towtee.
Who da peepoh?
Nouns and
verbs are
first!
First Language Acquisition



Fourth stage
2 years - 5 years
Full sentences
Is it Papa van? Where’d Papa go?
Papa goed away in Papa van.
Wow! They make
a lot of mistakes
don’t they?
First Language Acquisition


ALL children go through the SAME stages
in ALL languages.
They all go through in the same order.
Full sentences
Two word sentences
One word sentences
(Demonstrates comprehension)
Babbling in L1 sounds
Babbling in all sounds
the ‘silent’ period
First Language Acquisition


ALL children go through the SAME stages in ALL
languages.
They all go through in the same order.
articles
+s
She runs.
It’s a ball.
irregular
past
‘s
Daddy’s hat.
He went.
plural -s
Tcont
nouns/
verbs
Mommy
running
books
This is called the
order of acquisition.
How Languages are Learned Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada, OUP, 1993
First Language Acquisition

ALL children go through the SAME stages
in ALL languages.
BUT
How do children learn a
language?
First Language Acquisition

IMITATE?
Children imitate their mother
(or their caregivers).
Polly want a
cracker?
Polly want a
cracker?
First Language Acquisition

IMITATE?
Children imitate their mother
(or their caregivers).
Papa went to
the store.
Papa went to
the store.
Really?
Remember this?
Is it Papa’s van? Where’d Papa go? Papa goed away in
Papa’s van.
Is that Papa’s van? Where did Papa go? Papa went away
in his van?
Parents never say ‘goed’. Why do children?
First Language Acquisition
Children don’t just imitate their caregiver.
Children have a ‘language acquisition device’?
…like a computer in their brain…
They learn a language by trying to understand
the rules, by experimenting.
First Language Acquisition

What’s happening?
Papa goed away?
cry  cried
love  loved
go  goed
This is called
‘over-generalization’.
It means that you learn a rule and then
you apply that rule every time.
First Language Acquisition

What’s happening?
Zeke: (Holding up a shirt) Is this my clo’?
boy  boys
path  paths
clo  clothes
‘over-generalization’
The child tries new things
to see if they work, to see
if people understand.
First Language Acquisition
Bridget: Ceilan, you are beautiful!
Ceilan: Why arm I?
‘over-generalization’
he is  is he?
they are  are they?
you are  are I
 are my
 arm I
Eventually, the child learns
to speak correctly.
But correcting
doesn’t work!
First Language Acquisition

The most important thing is the message,
not the grammar or pronunciation.
Ceilan: I can’t pit it in.
Bridget: Put it in.
Ceilan: I can’t!
correcting her pronunciation…
continues with her message
Correcting doesn’t work!
First Language Acquisition

Children use learning strategies…
The listener doesn’t
understand.
Ceilan: Izit dafai, Mama?
Bridget: What’s a dafai?
Ceilan: Da fai! Da fai! Da bug? A bug?
Izat a fai?
Bridget: Yes, that’s a fly.
The child doesn’t give up;
she ‘talks around’, she
explains her message.
First Language Acquisition
So…
So a child just needs input
to learn a language?
No!
A child needs
interaction and
communication with
humans!
Second Language Acquisition
L2
How do adults learn a
second language?
Second Language Acquisition
Is L1 the same as L2?
Yes!
No!
Yes and no!
Second Language Acquisition
Is L1 the same as L2?
Some things are the same
• Adults need interaction and communication.
•Adults learn slowly.
•Adults make a lot of mistakes while they’re learning.
•Adults also have an order of acquisition.
Really?
Second Language Acquisition



ALLadults
ALL
adults
gogo
through
through
almost
thethe
SAME
SAME
stages
stages in
in ALL
ALLlanguages.
languages.
They all go through in the
almost
same
theorder.
same order.
longer sentences
short sentences
(Demonstrates
comprehension)
Demonstrates
comprehension
Babbling in L1 sounds
Babbling in all sounds
the silent period?
Second Language Acquisition
+s
They all go through in (almost) the same order.
She runs.
articles
It’s a ball.
irregular
past
‘s
Daddy’s hat.
He went.
plural -s
Tcont
nouns/
verbs
Mommy
running
books
It depends
little bit
This
is calleda the
on your
order
ofL1.
acquisition.
How Languages are Learned Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada, OUP, 1993
A child learning a first language (L1) or an
Can
you
guess
who
said
it?
L1
or
L2?
adult learning a second language (L2)?
1. I was fighting with one of my friend. L2 - adult
2. Here are some flowers for your anniversity. L1 - child
3. How much o'clock is it? L1 - child
4. I don't have nothing to say. L2 and L1!
5. I don't like that one - it's unpretty. L1 - child
6. I readed it last night. L1 - child
7. Mermaid is fish and girl. L1 - child
8. Phew! I'm exhausting! L2 and L1!
9. What he is doing in Africa? L1 - child
10.You are not understand why they are doing that. L2 - adu
Second Language Acquisition
But children can learn a
language better than
adults do, right?
Not really!
Except pronunciation!
How Languages are Learned Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada, OUP, 1993
Second Language Acquisition
Adults can learn from correction…
Adult: I can’t pit it in.
Teacher: Put it in.
Adult: Put it in.
correcting her pronunciation…
making the correction
Correcting works!
Second Language Acquisition
Adult’s advantages
Children’s advantages
• No ‘babbling’ time
• Surrounded by input
• Can organize
information
(=study!)
• Not afraid of making
mistakes
• Wants to learn
from corrections
• Always trying
• ‘Play’ with language
Adults who act ‘child-like’
learn the fastest!
How Languages are Learned Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada, OUP, 1993
Second Language Acquisition
Adults who act ‘child-like’ learn the fastest!
This is where personality comes in…
Learners have to make mistakes to learn.
Learners who make mistakes
Learnerslearn
who are
afraid
make mistakes
from
theirto
mistakes,
can’t learn
from
their
mistakes,
so they
learn
faster.
so they learn more slowly.
Second Language Acquisition
personality
open
talkative
risky
unembarrassed
curious
outgoing
unafraid
But what if
that’s not
ME?
Second Language Acquisition
personality
systematic
hard-working
very observant
willing to learn
a reader
I can do
THAT!
First Language Acquisition
Second Language Acquisition
What are the stages of first language acquisition?
What are the stages of second language acquisition?
What is the ‘order of acquisition’?
Is it the same for L1 and L2? What is one difference?
What is ‘over-generalization’?
What advantages do adults have learning an L2?
How important is personality?
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