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Second language learning in children and adults
This research program explores how the statistical structure of the input can affect learning of a modern foreign language, and how this differs for learners of different ages. This has potential implications for language teaching in schools. One set of experiments explores the learning of non-native speech contrasts (e.g. Greek speakers of English learning the difference between “sheep” and “ship”). There is evidence that adults learn better when speech sounds are exemplified across multiple contexts, is this also true for children? [ref] We are also looking at how input variability affects the learning of grammatical structures in children of different ages [7,11]. One experiment focuses on the learning of grammatical gender classes (i.e. the division of words into masculine and feminine) in Italian. 7 year old children learned Italian words by playing a computerized training game. The words were “marked” as masculine and feminine – masculine words were preceded by the word “il” and feminine words by the word “la”, and masculine words ended in an “o” and feminine words ended in an “a”. We found that children showed strong learning of the gender markings for the trained words, but there was only weak generalization of the patterns (as seen with for new word) [POSTER]. Ongoing experiments explore how manipulating the input boosts learning (for example, “staging” the input so that singulars are learned before plurals; “skewing” the input, so that one marker is more frequent than the other). Ongoing experiments explore factors affecting vocabulary learning (using Lithuanian) and learning of “tones” in Mandarin Chinese. This research is funded by a research grant from the ESRC held in collaboration with Dr Helen Brown (see the link at the top) as well as an SSHRC Insight Grant held by collaborator Meghan Clayards.
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