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  • Of all mankind's inventions, none was more consequential than the birth of language.

  • Before its creation each person's knowledge was limited to what he or she

  • experienced directly. Afterward someone who learned something could share it

  • with anybody else. In this video, we'll look at four things known about language

  • learning in general, and then listen to the story of lucky Lucy and poor Pete to

  • understand the importance of language in everyday life. Our brains foundation is

  • built through experiences early in life. Pat Levitt from the center of the

  • Developing Child at Harvard University studied our brain development over the

  • course of our life extensively. He showed how the brain's ability to change

  • dramatically drops in the years of life, while the amount of effort such change

  • requires increases. Another research showed that at age five 90% of a kid's

  • brain has been formed. If during these years the child is blocked from

  • receiving stimulating experiences, the Language Center and other parts of the

  • brain are likely to remain weak for life. We learn language socially by observing

  • and imitating others. Some 1,000 years ago German emperor Friedrich II wanted

  • to prove the opposite and showed that we develop language naturally, all by

  • ourselves. He made his nannies raise some children.

  • they were allowed to feed and clean them, but not to interact socially, or ever

  • speak a word. Not one child learned to speak, but instead, they all died. For the

  • same reason toddlers can't learn language via tape

  • or technology. They need to be motivated through a human relationship, then they

  • pay attention and learn.

  • Our language brain growth is strongest in year one. If we study the brains

  • development by the rate of new synapse formation over the first 11 months of

  • life, and then the next 15 years, we can see how much the first five years matter.

  • The growth in the part of the brain responsible for language peaks between

  • birth and age 3. During this critical period children can learn a new word

  • every 90 minutes and several languages simultaneously. Our sensory pathways

  • responsible for vision and hearing peak before, which makes sense because we need

  • to see and hear to imitate language. Four month old infants for example, if raised

  • bilingual by a British mom and the Chinese dad can already differentiate

  • between two languages just by observing the lip movements of their caregivers.

  • Higher cognitive function such as logical reasoning peaks only once we

  • have the words and know the symbols to make sense of our world. Language makes

  • our world: Rich language skills allow us to really listen, to speak well, to enjoy

  • reading and master writing, they can create an entire world around us. As the

  • German philosopher Wittgenstein said: "the limit of my language is the limit of my

  • world". let's take for example the word "daycare center". Some people think of it

  • as a "preschool" the Irish call it "play school" and the Germans invented the word

  • "Kindergarten". Only if we know all three words can we understand what's possible.

  • Now let's listen to the story about lucky Lucy and poor Pete, two children

  • raised in two very different ways. Lucy is raised by her mother. The mother

  • is an average native English speaker who knows around 20,000 different words.

  • Pete's parents hire a nice nanny from a foreign country. Instead of speaking in

  • her native language the nanny is told to talk to Peter only in English. While her

  • everyday English seems okay she actually knows only around 5,000 words. One

  • fourth of what Anne's mom knows. Year one is when the language brain is developing

  • the strongest. iÍf Lucy is awake half of the time her mom speaks she will hear

  • around 10,000 words per day and maybe 2500 being directed at her. Directed

  • language is what matters. Whenever her mom connects a word with an actual

  • experience, Lucy learns its meaning. Pete hears

  • English only when the nanny deliberately speaks to him, around 1,000 words a day.

  • But not only is quantity lower but also the quality. As the nanny is not fluent,

  • there is a chance that many words come across broken. At their first birthday

  • both kids can say: "mama" and "papa". What we don't see is that Lucy actually

  • already knows many many words even though she can't say them. But Pete's

  • language universe is more limited. When Lucy and her mom look at picture

  • books, her mom points out what they see: a little monkey is also a gorilla, an ape,

  • a clever animal which uses tools, climbs trees and lives with his mama and papa

  • in the rainforests of Africa. When Pete looks at a picture book his learning is

  • limited by the language of the nanny. The same monkey is just cute and eats

  • bananas. To compensate he's given a language app, but as Pete lacks

  • the foundation he doesn't understand a word. To him, it's just a bunch of new sounds

  • strangely connected to colorful characters. On their second birthday Lucy

  • knows already well over 200 words, the amount where children start to learn

  • rules and apply grammar. Pete knows less. Sometimes he gets frustrated because he

  • can't express himself. Lucy likes to go with her mom into the park. Sometimes

  • they watch the old men play chess. She doesn't understand the game but knows

  • that there are pawns, rooks, knights, a queen and a king, a bishop and

  • a horse. One day she will learn the rules. It will be easy because she sees each

  • figure clearly. Her understanding of their special

  • skills is obvious. For a lack of language Pete sees just a big checkered board and

  • some wooden figures which all look quite the same: pawns, knights, bishops. To

  • understand the rules later will be hard for Pete. All figures look so similar. How

  • could they do different things? At their third birthday both can say their own

  • name and form sentences. Lucy's vocabulary now holds 1500 words.

  • Pete's got 500 to make sense of this world. In year 4 they enter kindergarten.

  • When Pete stands in front of the big shelf he sees different wooden blocks,

  • the ball, some old toy, a horse and the yellow digger. When Lucy stands in front

  • of the same shelf, she sees circles, triangles, squares, a basketball, the red

  • pinwheel, the beige rocking horse and the carton box of the lego technic digger.

  • At playtime, Lucy understands what others are talking about and often takes the

  • lead by suggesting a new idea. Pete often doesn't understand what she means.

  • If the group discusses something for longer, he zones out because he has

  • trouble following the conversation. By the end of the year Lucy knows 3,500

  • words, where Pete only knows 1000 words. Lucy now forms more complicated

  • sentences in perfect grammar. In the evening her mom reads bedtime stories

  • to her. Words she's missing, she learns out of context. As a native speaker, the mom

  • can raise and lower her voice, making the stories exciting. Fairy tales become

  • alive in her head and Lucy learns to imagine and to think creatively. Pete

  • still speaks in more simple sentences and his grammar is not perfect. When his

  • nanny reads to him the voice is more monotone. It's more boring and paying

  • attention is more difficult. Words he's missing, often remain missing. By the end

  • of the year Lucy knows 6,000 and Pete knows 2,000 words.

  • To understand why the actual difference in language abilities between

  • the two is even larger than it seems, let's imagine that words are nothing but

  • tools that help us encode the world, form thoughts, structure ideas and then

  • communicate with others. With 6,000 words compared to 2,000 words

  • Lucy's toolbox is now three times the size. Lucy has a huge head start as she

  • is entering elementary school. Einstein by the way as a child seldom

  • spoke one interesting anecdote goes like this: As he was a late talker and hardly

  • spoke at the age of seven his parents were worried and tried many things to

  • get him to speak. At one point they were afraid that he had learning disabilities.

  • At last, at the dinner table one night, he broke his silence to say: "the soup is too

  • hot!", greatly relieved his parents asked why he had never said a word before?

  • The young genius replied: "Because up until now, everything was in order.". What are

  • your thoughts about language learning? Can someone like Pete still catch up

  • later in life or maybe find other good ways to express himself?

  • Maybe our point of view is too narrow and Pete and Lucy actually balance each

  • other out with the different skills they have? Please share your thoughts in the

  • comments below!

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Of all mankind's inventions, none was more consequential than the birth of language.

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Learning and Development of Language: The First 5 Years of Life

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    Summer posted on 2021/01/31
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