Some very interesting research on language development in children this week from the University of Sydney and Associate Professors Evan Kidd and Joanne Arciuli.  Their study shows that children’s language development is a learned skill, linked to the ability to recognise patterns in their environment.

The researchers found children who did better at pattern learning – such as identifying patterns in non-verbal tasks – also had better knowledge of grammar. This suggests that pattern learning is strongly associated with language development, shedding light on why some children learn languages more easily than their peers.

The study assessed 68 children aged six to eight years on two tests – one on grammatical knowledge and the other a visual pattern learning task. Children who were better at identifying the visual patterns also did better on the grammar test. The authors argue that this shows that grammar can be learned.

“For a long time people thought of grammar as some sort of special cognitive system, like a box in our brain that we are born with, but our study shows that language proficiency is associated with learning – which helps to explain why some people pick it up faster than others,” said Professor Kidd.

“These findings are exciting because in the long-term they could help us develop strategies to assist children who may not be typically developing for their age.”

Professor Arciuli said the research shows children have a remarkable capacity to learn without conscious awareness. “Unbeknownst to children themselves their brains are constantly computing these patterns or statistics – for example which words co-occur regularly, which words follow others, and different contexts in which words are used.”

“Their ability to identify patterns is very much related to how they learn to use the conventions of language.”

The researchers will now carry out a further 3-year study of language development, and are recruiting 5 year olds to participate.

This research on language development rings a bell with us at la Academia. It ties in with links that seem to exist between Maths and languages and Music and languages, and these subjects also involve patterns so perhaps children who are good at those patterns also learn languages better. What’s your experience? Do you like finding language patterns? Do you find that children you know are musical or mathematically-minded and that helps with languages? Tell us your thoughts!

University of Sydney: “Pattern learning key to children’s language development.” ScienceDaily, 5 May 2016.