SPEAKER 1: This is a presentation by Human Development Outreach and Extension at Cornell University.
BARBARA LUST: I'll focus today on our study of language acquisition in the child. It's the focus of research in our Language Acquisition Lab at Cornell, which is both a research and a teaching lab. For years, we've been doing research on children's acquisition of language, languages across the world, children across the world, and we teach Cornell students how to do research with children in order to interview them for their knowledge of language, in particular.
Why do we study language acquisition? Well, as one philosopher put it, there is probably nothing greater that happened to the human species than our transformation into a species with human language. So as Dennett said, "There's no step more uplifting, more explosive, more momentous in the history of mind design than the invention of language. The species stepped into a slingshot that has launched it far beyond all other earthly species in the power to look ahead and reflect."
We've all made this transformation in our cells and it's sad that it's probably the greatest intellectual feat any of us has ever performed. Now, what interests us is that the child, every living normal human child in front of us, is accomplishing this feat-- is accomplishing this transformation. And they're doing it silently and naturally and unconsciously in front of us.
Now, it's sometimes hard to realize because it is so silent and natural how complex a feat it is. But even if you look at a little bit of Dr. Seuss, "What do you know about tweetle beetles? When tweetle beetles fight, it's called a tweetle beetle battle, and when they battle in a puddle, it's a tweetle beetle puddle battle. And when tweetle beetles battled with paddles in a puddle," et cetera.
So even in this little, little piece of language, you can see what a child or we have to do, very, very fine distinctions in sounds-- "tweetle" and "beetle," "paddle" and "battle"-- all of that into words, the words into sentences which are in the right order, and then one sentence combined with another-- "and"-- and then building out these structures-- "a tweetle beetle battle," et cetera, et cetera.
And if you were studying this linguistically as a linguist, you really get quite excited about thinking about the complexity because the child mind has to be working on all these levels of representation of language knowledge, like the sounds and sentences, the words, the meaning, and they have to be thinking at the same time and then combining their language and their thinking.
Now, even more amazing than this feat, we've come to realize over the past few years, even more than we had originally, is the fact that not only will the young child-- and the normal healthy child, by the time they're about three, they're going to be showing us their mastery of this wonderful accomplishment.
But what we now realize also is that the child isn't limited to that accomplishment of one language alone. As amazing as that seems, it's perfectly possible for the child to be learning more than one language. And in fact, the estimates are the percent of children who are going to be learning language bilingually-- are going to be learning more than one language at once-- is going up.
So by 2015, people estimate it might be 30% of preschoolers in the US who will be learning more than one language at once. So those of us who study this are fascinated. How much is built in to make this process possible? How much is due to learning?
When does it begin? How does it happen? And does acquiring-- there's still questions that you've probably heard people ask. Does acquiring more than one language at once actually hinder the process-- make it harder?
Now, to study those questions, the difficulties, of course, are it's tacit knowledge. We don't know we have it. We're unconscious of it. The child is unconscious of how they get it or what they know. And there's nothing tangible. You can't really touch it and study it under a microscope in language.
And then the child is doing it within those first three years of life, which makes it even more difficult because the child at that age, you don't expect them to meta-reflect on how they are doing and what they're doing, usually.
So it's a complex field as to how to study it and you generally have to combine different disciplines. So we call it "cognitive science." You have to know developmental psychology but in addition, you also have to know linguistics, experimental methods, neuroscience-- something about the brain.
Now, in the book that I did that Claire referred to, the one called Child Language Acquisition and Growth, I tried to cull the field-- mind the field of study of language acquisition. It's a field that's been exploding with research over the past year and over the past year has also developed new methodology for studying very young children, even infants before they can talk.
So I thought the time had come to look out and put all that research together and assess the state of the art with regard to where we are. Now, what I thought I'd like to do today is maybe just briefly refer to some of those basic discoveries that I tried to pull out in the book and then exemplify some of the active research that is now going on in our lab and elsewhere on the acquisition of language, including the acquisition of bilingualism and multilingualism, and then maybe close with a few recommendations for educational context for educators or for parents in the future.
And just-- don't want to spend a lot of time on this but to begin with, just give you an idea of some of the recent new discoveries. A lot of these discoveries have taught us that before the child is 12 months of age, before they at about that time are launching into their first words, they have already worked on language for 12 intense months. They have already picked up much about the language they'll be acquiring.
So just to give you an exam-- and these are the kinds of things I tried to review in the book so I'm not going to spend time going over them. But if you take a neonate and you play to them two different languages, like French and Russian or Japanese and English, you can show that the infant is actually distinguishing the languages.
Even if it's not their--
SPEAKER 2: A neonate?
BARBARA LUST: A neonate? Just born, right? And you take a child just born, you'll find this. You'll find them able to distinguish sounds that we have trouble distinguishing. So if I hear, for example, distinctions in tonal words or Malayalam words, it's often very hard for us-- or Japanese distinctions-- very hard for us to distinguish those sounds, not to mention make them in a new language.
Well, the neonate, again, you can show is distinguishing all those sounds. And by the time they're 12 months of age, they have started restricting the sounds to which they respond to be just the sounds of their language. So if it's Japanese, they'll be distinguished responding to those-- English, responding to those.
And all during that 12 months, a lot of research is showing you the process of how the infant's working on the speech stream of all the language they're hearing around them. So for example, by the time the child is four months old, if you read a story-- like a Cinderella story-- to a child and you put the pauses in the wrong place, the infant will distinguish that and they'll listen longer to the place where you've broken the language in the way the language should be broken.
So this is a story about Cinderella. She lived in a big house or she lived in a small house and she had this mean, mean grandmother. But if you read that, this is a story about Cinderella. She lived-- and you don't break it up the way the natural language should, you can find infants by four months of age who will make that distinction.
So the infants are not only cracking the code of the speech stream for sounds but they're also doing it for structure during that first 12 months. And by the time they launch into their first words-- which is when most people say, my child's starting to get language-- they have already done a lot of work. So there really isn't any first time like that where you say, now the child has language. Before that, they're pre-linguistic.
So that being the case, we even in our lab have that as background. But we want to know more about how the child actually gets the language, how they accomplish this feat. And they're going to go from the 12 months, having some words now and having this basic knowledge, to being able to put the syntax of the language together.
That means the sentence structure, how you combine the words to get sentences that are well-formed. The semantics-- that is how you put that with meaning, various kinds of meaning. They're going to have to learn thousands of new words and they're going to have to learn more than one language at once if they're in a bilingual situation.
So what I thought I would do today is just give you an example of some of the research that's going on where we're trying to understand each of these processes. And we generally are working with children who have-- we try to get them when they've just started combining their first words. So we'll be working with children between two years of age and maybe six or seven.
But I'll try to give you some research examples of each of these different areas so you can see both how we do the research and also what some of the results are that we're getting. So we often work with the Early Child Care Center, for example, with Elizabeth Stilwell and her directors and teachers, to interview these little children. Or we go into children's homes. If they're very young, especially, we'll do that.
And we set up teams with Cornell graduates and undergraduate students who are working in the Language Acquisition Lab and elsewhere. Now, I'll show you first an example of this very complex acquisition just to show you what the child accomplishes by the time they're three years of age, in terms of this complex acquisition.
So I'm going to make some reference to an experimental study that was led by Claire Foley, a graduate student here who is now teaching at Boston College. And she led a team of students in studying how and when children came to understand sentences that look really simple. Like, "Ernie touches the ground and Big Bird does too" looks really simple-- doesn't take an instant to interpret what it means.
But it's actually not very simple. For one thing, nobody's is telling you in this sentence what Big Bird does. So your mind has to figure it out by doing some computation. And so if you were a linguist, you'd design what that computation might look like. But for us, we were interested because if the child mind has to do this, then if we're trying to understand what's going on in the child mind, we want to see what the computation is in that mind.
Would a very young infant-- a very young child now-- be able to do this what you call "interpretation by reconstruction?" And not only that, we were interested in this very, very simple-looking sentence that we designed research around because when you look at it and you make it just a tiny bit more complicated-- like this one, "Oscar bites his banana and Bert does too"-- what do people think that means, for example?
These are little sentences like we tested our little children with. And there's no right or wrong answer here but what do we think this does because now we have to figure out both what Oscar bit and what Bert bit? So anybody want to suggest what they think that means?
SPEAKER 3: I think it means that Bert also bites a banana, like his banana.
SPEAKER 4: But does he have his own banana or did he bite Oscar's?
BARBARA LUST: Right. Exactly. Right, which--
SPEAKER 5: A young child would be more likely to think it was his own banana because little children are very self-obsessed.
BARBARA LUST: Well, actually, you turn out to be quite right. I'm not sure what the explanation is but quite right. But one of the reasons these sentences interested us were, as you can see, the sentence is ambiguous. You can map onto many kinds of readings. If you have several kinds of bananas out there that belong to different people, you can have Oscar bite his own and Bert bites his own.
That's Claire's reading. Or you could have Bert bite Oscar's, also. Or if Ernie's got a banana out there, they could bite that. It's multiply ambiguous. It's a very complex, very complex structure.
Also interesting to us, though, was that it can't mean just anything and this is the way natural language works. It's a formal system in the mind and it's not that just anything goes. So even though you've got all these different possible meanings, It can-- whoops-- it cannot mean that Oscar bites Oscar's and Bert bites Ernie's.
No matter how many bananas you've got around, it can't mean that. It can't mean Oscar bites Bert's and Bert bites Oscar's. No matter how many bananas are out there, your mind does not compute that reading for this sentence. So we thought this would be a wonderful way to test a wonderful-- it looks so simple-- to test the child.
And again, if you were doing linguistics, you get excited about these sentences because the reading that Claire gave where they each do their own, if you're a linguist, you'll represent that by saying, there's got to be a bound variable in there. Right So then people say, oh, a child mind-- that's much too complicated for that reading, which is the reading Claire predicted they'd be most likely to do.
So as experimenters, we set the child in front of three plates and Bert and Oscar and Fozzie Bear each have their own fruit. And we put the child in front and we give the child these little sentences. And we--
KATHARINA BOSER: "Oscar bites his banana and Bert does, too."
SPEAKER 6: Bert bites his banana?
SPEAKER 7: Yep.
SPEAKER 6: Bert bites his banana? Bert bites his banana? Bert bites his banana? Did you put bananas more?
SPEAKER 7: Ah.
SPEAKER 6: Bert-- How are we going to get the strings?
KATHARINA BOSER: You could just pretend that he's got a mom who tears him. Yeah. Let's pretend that he bites into the peel. Good. [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 6: Ow, Ashton! [INAUDIBLE]
BARBARA LUST: So this child had just turned three. This is 3.0. So this child has just finished two years of existence. And this child is giving what Claire predicted would be the preferred interpretation. We call it "the sloppy interpretation," which means it isn't neat and strict. They don't each do one. They each do their own.
And also, it's a lovely example because everybody will say, a child's attention span is so short and all. But obviously, the child's attention-- the experimenter, who was Katharina Boser, was a master experimenter because she let the child have their time. She didn't jump in and interfere with what the child was doing.
SPEAKER 8: On the other side of the plates, are those pictures of the characters?
BARBARA LUST: They are, to remind the child of whose plate is whose. And this side of it is really for the experimenter so they can know what they're doing. You're exactly right. But not only did the child give this reading but they also gave another one of the possible readings. I'll show you that.
KATHARINA BOSER: "Fozzie Bear rolls his orange and Bert does, too."
SPEAKER 6: Oh.
KATHARINA BOSER: It's not going to work?
SPEAKER 6: Uh-uh.
KATHARINA BOSER: Ah. Well--
BARBARA LUST: So the child capable of the computation-- also capable of the ambiguity here, of taking more than one possible meaning. And in all the research that we did, we found almost none of the child giving the impossible readings-- so very strong arguments that the child has extremely complex knowledge, meaning, and syntax even before the age of three. They can deal with the ambiguity and they're also grammatically constrained, suggesting there's a grammatical system coming to shape in that mind.
And we won't take time for this but we were interested in this. We were interested in how universal this competence is, for example. So this is an example of research that we did with Yuchin Chien, also a previous graduate student at Cornell who's now teaching at California State at San Bernardino. She did this in Taiwan with Chinese children and Chinese sentences and the data basically replicated what we had here.
So that's one set of active research and the kind of questions that we're asking and the kind of results that we're getting. But another set of research studies involves "acquisition of semantics," you'd call it, or the acquisition of meaning, the child's acquisition of words because obviously, once the child starts with their first words, they're going to go through a tremendous rate of acquisition of new words, no matter what language they're in.
So some people say they're acquiring 68 new words a day or up to 45 a day. And the reason people say that is when they study children in depth over time, you can see a child going from 16 months, 29; 19 months, 61; 20 months, 103; by two years, 1,000; and then by the time they're us, we cannot count them anymore but maybe a minimum of 50,000 words that are in our head.
So the process here of how the child masters this task is also the focus of much research now. And one of the phenomena that we've been very interested in studying as to how the child does this relates to a phenomenon called "over-extension." This is a very natural phenomenon. All children in all languages even in fact go through it.
And we'll just show you a few examples.
RYAN: Apple! Apple!
BARBARA LUST: This child's over-extending the word "apple."
SPEAKER 7: You know fruits and vegetables?
RYAN: Yeah. Apple.
SPEAKER 9: Where's the pumpkin?
SPEAKER 9: Where's the pumpkin?
RYAN: Apple! Apple!
SPEAKER 9: Where's the pumpkin, Ryan?
RYAN: Apple! Apple, apple, apple, apple, apple--
SPEAKER 9: Come look at your pumpkin. Mommy wants the pumpkin.
RYAN: Pumpkin with the-- Mommy, I did it.
SPEAKER 9: Yeah. Show Mommy. Mommy couldn't see the pumpkin. Show Mommy the pumpkin.
SPEAKER 9: Mommy wants the pumpkin. Which one's the pumpkin?
RYAN: Apple! Apple! Apple! Apple! We already did that.
SPEAKER 9: Show me the pumpkin. Where's the pumpkin? Where's the pumpkin?
SPEAKER 9: That's annoying.
RYAN: Apple. Apple! Apple! Apple! Apple! Apple! Apple!
SPEAKER 9: Is that a nap calling me? He's like, no, ma'am.
SPEAKER 9: You're sure it's not a pumpkin? Where's the pumpkin? You want me to race to the pumpkin? Where'd it go?
RYAN: Oh. I have it.
Apple! Apple! Apple!
SPEAKER 9: Yeah.
SPEAKER 9: And what's this?
SPEAKER 9: What's that?
SPEAKER 9: What do you have?
SPEAKER 9: What is that?
SPEAKER 9: No. What is that?
SPEAKER 9: What's this?
SPEAKER 9: What's that?
SPEAKER 9: All right. Good job,
BARBARA LUST: So we know this child is-- so if you say they've started producing first words at about 12 months and this child is one year and nine months now, it's months of working on vocabulary now. And quite a large percent of children's early vocabulary is overextended.
So children do it with different words, different ways, or they call all vehicles "car" or "bus" or something. But but it's a very natural part of the process and the words get carved out gradually over time.
Now, we're fascinated by how the child does carve it out over time. How does the time go from being so sure and you try to correct this child and you would not get anywhere with the way you wanted things called and how they get to finally overcoming it? So here's the child at four.
SPEAKER 10: Why?
RYAN: Because it's orange.
SPEAKER 10: What's that mean?
RYAN: Because it means it's orange.
SPEAKER 10: Oh. It's not an apple? I think that's an apple.
RYAN: No, it's a pumpkin.
SPEAKER 10 It's yellow.
RYAN: Well, that's its gut.
SPEAKER 10: Oh.
SPEAKER 9: What did you say?
RYAN: I said, "guts."
SPEAKER 9: Oh. The guts are yellow.
SPEAKER 10: I didn't see that. It's not an apple.
SPEAKER 10: Oh.
SPEAKER 9: How can you tell?
RYAN: Because it's a pumpkin and there's orange on it, Yeah. And we are going to wash it away.
SPEAKER 10: Ah.
SPEAKER 9: We'll wash it away?
SPEAKER 10: What do you mean, "wash it away?" Oh.
RYAN: They're drawing light,
SPEAKER 10: Oh. That's because it's spotted.
SPEAKER 9: But if they go away, maybe it's not a pumpkin anymore.
RYAN: Yeah. Maybe it'll turn it into an apple.
SPEAKER 9: Grandpa thinks it's an apple. Are you sure it's an apple?
RYAN: No. It's a pumpkin. And pumpkins are for Halloween.
SPEAKER 10: And what do I have to--
RYAN: Let me cut this for Halloween and--
SPEAKER 10: But what about apples? Apples are for Halloween because you bob for apples on Halloween.
RYAN: No, they're called "pumpkins."
SPEAKER 10: Oh, I see.
RYAN: But jack o'lanterns are pumpkins. They come and they have lights and candles in them--
SPEAKER 10: I see, yeah--
RYAN: At night.
SPEAKER 10: You can't make a jack o'lantern out of an apple?
RYAN: No, you make it out of a pumpkin.
SPEAKER 10: Oh, I see.
RYAN: Pumpkins are kind of fun.
SPEAKER 10: OK. But there's a pumpkin.
RYAN: No, this is a pumpkin.
SPEAKER 10: What's this?
RYAN: That's an apple.
SPEAKER 10: How do you know it's an apple?
RYAN: Because it is. It's red.
SPEAKER 10: Oh. But there are green apples.
RYAN: Yeah. Some are green.
SPEAKER 10: OK. Then how do you know they're apples?
RYAN: And some are yellow.
SPEAKER 10: And how can you tell they're apples?
RYAN: Because they are.
SPEAKER 9: But you have an orange apple?
RYAN: No, this is called a "pumpkin."
BARBARA LUST: So the child is very, very sure now. This has happened over several years. The child is very sure about what you call what and he's also trying to come up with reasons for why he believes it. But if you asked us why we characterize something as an apple or a pumpkin and we had to know the natural science of it, we'd have trouble, too.
So it's a real issue about what goes on in the child's mind over these years as they're building a vocabulary that is somewhat close to the vocabulary we have. And what research is trying to do now is to try to capture what's going on in that child's mind by which you go from one stage to the next.
So what this shows, we have more results. The child is creative. It's really not doing just what you deliberately teach it to do or say. The child is abstract. The child is just not labeling like you put a label on an object, like a stimulus response labeling or something.
The child's categorizing. It's building concepts. And it's obviously using some kind of experience but that's what we're trying to figure out, what kind of experience and how does it use it. But all these things are going on in the child's development.
Well, so far, where does that leave us? We've got language acquisition beginning at birth, even before the first word, probably. You've got major accomplishments by 12 months. You've got basic accomplishment of this very full, complex system-- not totally adult-like but really quite accomplished by about three years of age in the normal case.
And children vary a lot in the timing-- not everybody is timed exactly the right way but speaking generally here. And you have all these aspects of language being learned at once. It's not just that you learn the meaning and then you put the words together and you learn that or something. It's all happening at once.
So in the book, I deal some with people struggling to build a theory here and to build an explanation and you have to recognize there's some kind of biological programming that has to be going on underlying all this. And at the same time, the child's acquiring a specific language. That can be biologically programmed, English or Japanese. And there has to be experience and we know that experience is going on constantly from birth.
But then we can turn to that other question we raised. So complex and such an accomplishment-- what about being exposed to more than one language at once? What about bilingualism or multilingualism in the child because you've got children acquiring three, four, or more languages in some cases. How does the child manage to acquire this?
And I've come to appreciate much of this through one of my graduate students, Sujin Yang, who came to the Cornell Language Acquisition Lab and transformed it, saying, well, you're so puzzled by the child's acquiring their first language, monolingual. But can you explain this? And I've just come to realize that it's a larger problem and a very exciting problem.
So what Sujin Yang did was she asked these questions. Is bilingualism/multilingualism beneficial to cognitive development, the general health of the child's developing mind? Or is it detrimental? Does it help or hinder the child's acquisition of what may be their first language, if you will, if they're acquiring one and then the other? And how does the child manage to do it?
So under the direction of Sujin Yang, there's been a project that was developed in our lab but also many other labs across the world now are looking at issues like this, where they're trying to develop experimental methods for measuring whether becoming bilingual actually has cognitive advantages on the child's general cognitive development, their thinking processes.
And/or would it be the opposite? Is it just too complex to be adding that to the developmental picture? Sujin and others have focused on this cognitive ability which they wanted to measure as a possible variable here, which is called "executive attention." And executive attention is mainly the higher-order cognitive operating system in the mind, as people use it now.
It's the function that allows you to manage different cognitive processes or to allow you or the child to work in the face of distraction. There's always distractions, always much happening in the world. You've got to manage the inhibition of that distraction and you've got to focus on the central issue.
You've also got to have cognitive flexibility. You have to be able to deal with change and manage your mind so that it can go back and forth. So a lot of work now looks at a comparison of monolingual children to bilingual children in their executive attention functioning.
And just to give you a little idea of the research that Sujin started in our lab, which is somewhat similar to some other labs, she actually asked, how do these attention networks-- because also, scholars are now looking in the brain to try to give us a representation of how executive attention works.
And so scholars like Michael Posner, for example, and his collaborators have identified what they call "attention networks" in the brain so that they're understanding biologically how this executive attention works to some degree more than we ever did before. But Sujin has been asking-- and this is an ongoing research project now-- during early childhood, would bilinguals be different from monolinguals in this development of executive attention?
And she studied actually four, five, and six-year-old children so far and in the first study, she was looking at Korean English monolinguals. Also, everything that I'm talking about now, it does matter what two languages we're talking about. But she controlled it by looking at little Korean-English bilingual children of these ages.
And she used a test which is given to the child on a computer-- this was developed by Michael Posner and his collaborators-- called an "attention network test." And the basic issue here is that the child would be given these little fish figures and it's going to have to make a decision about whether that middle fish is pointing right or left.
And to do it, you could give the child a congruent condition where all the fish are going in the same direction or here, an incongruent condition where the middle fish is going in one direction and all the surrounding fish are going in another. And in order to answer this question, you have to inhibit your responses to those other things going around and you have to focus.
And so this particular computer-based test is used by Sujin's project and also by others to measure executive attention in young children. And just to give you a little bit, the students in the lab have done several posters which I'll make available with this presentation to give you some of the results here.
But just to give you a taste of what's happening-- and Sujin's given many conference papers on this-- on her, remember, four, five, and six-year-olds, here's the difference in accuracy. So her bilinguals in accuracy on that task much higher-- four years, five years, and six years so over-development.
Reaction time-- you want the reaction time to be lower, meaning you're less confused. You can deal with that quickly. Reaction time significantly slower-- so some very strong results, I think, coming out of this suggesting that there are very strong cognitive advantages to becoming bilingual.
And there are other tests. It's not only the executive attention but other cognitive functions that the research is suggesting are benefited by the child being bilingual.
SPEAKER 11: Could you go back to that previous slide, please?
BARBARA LUST: Sure.
SPEAKER 11: Where it says "reaction time," the reaction time of the bilinguals is lower?
BARBARA LUST: So the bilinguals would be the yellow bar and that's what you want. You want a faster reaction time showing they can deal with it more efficiently on this task. So this task, if you take a long time, it's going to be interpreted as, you're having trouble dealing with the test.
SPEAKER 11: Oh, I see.
BARBARA LUST: And it's so-- yeah, I'm sorry.
SPEAKER 11: Monolinguists, it was taking them longer.
BARBARA LUST: Yes. Right.
SPEAKER 11: Yeah.
BARBARA LUST: Right. No, accuracy higher but what you want is reaction time. On this task, anyway, you want reaction time, which is really fast, showing you're really efficient at dealing with this conflicting information.
SPEAKER 11: Oh, yeah.
SPEAKER 12: So the ones on the right, the red bars--
BARBARA LUST: Uh-huh?
SPEAKER 12: They're--
BARBARA LUST: They're the--
SPEAKER 12: More quickly or more slowly?
BARBARA LUST: They're doing it more slowly.
SPEAKER 12: Oh, OK.
BARBARA LUST: The monolinguals would be the red bars and they're doing it more slowly and the bilinguals are responding more quickly on the task. And lots of replications of this result now-- lots of related research trying to unconfound how much culture's involved and things like that, too.
SPEAKER 12: That is significant.
SPEAKER 13: Yeah, it's--
BARBARA LUST: It's very, very impressive and very important research, I think. And it converges with other labs and other results and all. But that then was one branch of research that started developing in the lab and under Sujin Yang's direction started giving interesting and significant and important results.
But then we became more fascinated with, well, if this is true and bilingualism is this positive phenomenon, how does it happen in the child? And how does the child manage to accomplish it?
And here, with Sujin Yang and others, we are developing a longitudinal case study approach, where we would go into the Early Childhood Center working with Elizabeth Stilwell, for example, picking out certain children who had just been put into that nursery school at maybe about three years of age, just three maybe-- spoke no language but Korean.
One spoke Chinese. Another I'm going to show you spoke Hebrew. No English at all-- the parents have come over for school or work. The little child three-year-old is put in that nursery school. So we thought, we really want to understand how this happens.
And maybe if we track the child from the time-- we do these case studies. Take an individual child and track them individually from the time they're first put into that environment to the end when they've accomplished longitudinally, seeing them every week or so as much as you can, giving these different assessments-- maybe we can begin to understand this process.
Now, this is ongoing research and as you could see, it would be very difficult to do because as you measure the child at each moment in time, you're not really going to see anything in particular. You're going to have to put all the data together to get the results. But I want to just show you an example of what we're doing here.
And I'm going to give you an example from a little Israeli child who came in the nursery school in this situation speaking only Hebrew. And when she came here, Hebrew was still the language of home and now she's in English at the Early Childhood Center. This research was directed by a then graduate student, Yarden Kedar, who's now teaching in Israel.
And it was done with Elizabeth Stilwell directing the Early Childhood Center and also with a whole series of undergraduates here, Kristen, Brian. Julia, and Erica, who you'll probably see. We studied this child. Oh, we did 40 interviews over time and we studied her from when she came in at just three to eight months later when she left to go back to Israel at three years and eight months.
And what I'm going to try to do now is just show you a bit of the child when she just entered-- a bit of the child as she leaves-- well, almost leaves. This was slightly before they went back to Israel eight months later.
Now, when she begins, she speaks only Hebrew and she thinks everybody else should. So the teachers will tell you she ran around the nursery school speaking Hebrew to everyone and just assuming that was it. So I'll show you a little bit of this. Whoops.
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
BARBARA LUST: This is the nursery school.
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
YARDEN KEDAR: She was at my place and I was at her place and now I'm going to go to her. Now she's here.
KRISTEN PALLONETTI: Yeah, she's here.
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
KRISTEN PALLONETTI: Are you planning to meet with [INAUDIBLE] together?
BARBARA LUST: So Kristen the researcher doesn't understand any Hebrew. Yarden Kedar is translating for the researcher. And I'll give you another little example of this.
YARDEN KEDAR: Can you play with her?
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
YARDEN KEDAR: Barney?
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
YARDEN KEDAR: Barney!
SPEAKER 13: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
YARDEN KEDAR: That's a great one. I tried to do the American "r" in "Barney" and she said "Bahnie," not "Barney."
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
BARBARA LUST: Now, this is actually quite wonderful. The child speaks only Hebrew. It'd be too much to saying there's another language out there maybe.
But she's paying such close attention to the way words are said, that if Barney is not said as it would be said in Hebrew, she's upset. So that means she's picked up that little vowel and that "r," that fine distinction, at this very early time.
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
YARDEN KEDAR: So they were not even a little bit a few weeks ago but now I'm playing. When she told me, hey, let me see this, she said-- it was bad.
BARBARA LUST: So the slide titles are actually switched here. But you can see from this example, too, the child has something to say to the other person. And in the nursery school, I gather it got her in trouble a bit because here, she's saying, I'm going to play with this now and you're not or whatever.
And she really wanted people to understand it. And so when the little children in the nursery school didn't, we start out with a problem. But I want to show you now just starting from this kind of baseline the child eight months later.
Now, eight months is quite a short time, like if you thought of one of us taking a second language acquisition course for eight months where we would be. Uh-huh.
SPEAKER 14: I just want to say, even when he's speaking in English, she's still paying a lot of attention to him. She's not just playing the guitar. She's also paying attention to the English, even though she doesn't understand it.
BARBARA LUST: Obviously. This is the biggest part of the picture here. The child is like a sponge. They are drinking up the language around them. And it doesn't matter how many languages are around them. They are just absorbing it and with this real fine attention to detail.
No, I think you're absolutely right. But now, at the time, I'll show you some examples eight months later. The researchers did a bit of interviewing in the school but also a bit of interviewing in the home. And I think what we're going to show you first is the child in the home. This is eight months later.
NOAH: I want chocolate. Yes?
SPEAKER 15: No. I haven't eaten breakfast yet so I can't have chocolate just yet.
NOAH: I'm wanting chocolate on the plate. What do you say?
SPEAKER 15: Well, if you eat breakfast, then you can have chocolate.
NOAH: Eat some breakfast.
SPEAKER 15: Oh.
NOAH: Yeah. When you get it for me, get me some cheese.
SPEAKER 15: Mmm. I'm make you one.
NOAH: Cheese sandwich?
BARBARA LUST: So you can see. I'm going to show you a little more of this in the next one with--
NOAH: I want them
KRISTEN PALLONETTI: Oh. You know, I can't read this? Why not?
NOAH: Because it's my own. It's mine. My grandma did bring this from home. She brought that and [INAUDIBLE].
BARBARA LUST: So you see the child is not only using sentences. She's using complex sentences with because clauses and using pronouns like "mine" and it's really quite sophisticated knowledge of language.
And not only that, but on the next clips, we'll show you the child has retained the Hebrew. So in this home, the grandparents spoke Hebrew to each other, although they seem to be all bilingual. But at home they're always speaking and to the child, they're always speaking Hebrew. So here's a clip of the child actually going back and forth.
YARDEN KEDAR: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
NOAH: Well, so I had--
SPEAKER 16: You're not going by English now to tell Kristen and Brian what you're saying?
SPEAKER 17: Let's do five pairs--
SPEAKER 17: It's a memory game, a matching game, right?
NOAH: Yeah. It's very hard.
SPEAKER 17: It's what? It's what, honey?
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
SPEAKER 17: It's really hard, she told me. Yes, it's really hard. OK. If you will open all of them, it will be much easier.
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
BARBARA LUST: So I think that was-- well, you heard the child go and speak Hebrew in the kitchen and then come back and even translate. And then when the grandmother seemed not to understand the English, she came out with the Hebrew and then went back to the English.
And maybe one more example of the child translating--
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
SPEAKER 17: Uh-huh. Yeah. So that's right. But now you have to say it in English.
NOAH: I want--
SPEAKER 17: Yes--
NOAH: My grandmother always to [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 17: Your grandmother, yes?
BARBARA LUST: The child is capable not only of-- and she's not totally home with English yet-- but not only of this new language in eight months but of maintaining the Hebrew and of going back and switching, language switching, which is considered quite complex, and language translation even. And this is at three years and eight months.
Now in the school, what happens there?
KRISTEN PALLONETTI: Oh.
NOAH: We're going on the walk.
KRISTEN PALLONETTI: Where do you walk to?
NOAH: Where do we go walking?
KRISTEN PALLONETTI: I don't know where we're going to walk today. Hmm. We could go to the gardens. Oh.
NOAH: Gardens? Hey, yeah, we can. I can go with you again? I can see you?
NOAH: When you're back, I want to go to the page.
[GIGGLING AND SHRIEKING]
BARBARA LUST: So you get very complex language, these complex sentence structures really in English. But then she has a little friend in the nursery school, Shaked, whom she knows speaks Hebrew. And you can see her--
NOAH: [SPEAKING HEBREW]
BARBARA LUST: Switching to Hebrew for that child.
SPEAKER 18: Oh, she made the noise.
BARBARA LUST: Right. So I guess you could say this is just a fascinating issue for us now. How did that child go in eight months from no production, no comprehension, to this?
Now, it tells us what we've seen so far, any child can learn more than one language. They'll do so naturally if surrounded by the languages. The earlier they do it, the better. They'll have these cognitive advantages from learning one language. There's no evidence it hinders acquisition of the first language.
What does that mean? But how the child did it is the mystery and we would really love to be able-- we have these 40 sessions and we have other case studies and part of that work with Sujin Yang and Yarden Kedar now will be trying to determine more of the process of acquisition here over those months.
But what are the implications for educational context or how can they help or home context? Everything that we've learned has taught us you surround the child with as much rich language as possible. You just surround them, conversation literacy-- surround them with language. Surround them with more than one language if you can and if it's natural. That's wonderful.
Maintain the home language. Don't try to lose the home language in order to develop a second language. Apparently-- I just spoke with Yarden a little bit in the past couple of days where Noah is also back in Israel.
And apparently, she's losing her English. And she's going back to complete Hebrew. And so I don't know how you make this work in all contexts, in all situations, but it seems to us a terrible loss given what we know about the advantages of bilingualism.
But the basic conclusion that I conclude with here is in studying language acquisition, it's always a kind of different situation, I think, than studying other things. It's always the child teaching us. We're not teaching the child. That's just the way it is. And the biggest conclusion is that the mystery of how the child does it-- still in spite of everything we know, the mystery remains.
But the study of the child is the only way we think that we can really move ahead on understanding this mystery. And I guess just in concluding, I'm not going to take-- I've put some references up here for people who might be interested in more of the work that's going on that's relevant here.
And I'm not going to take time for this just to tell you we're building this. We're trying to build this new virtual center where we can link labs across the country and across the world studying language acquisition and put our work together by using the internet and various kinds of virtual powers. So I'm going to--
SPEAKER 19: Was it VCL-- what's the last--
BARBARA LUST: VCLA, Virtual Center for Language Acquisition. And we're trying to-- if we don't specialize in our lab on one thing, through this virtual center, to be able to hook up with another lab somewhere else in the world where someone's focusing on it, on literacy or whatever.
And I want to just give special acknowledgements to James Gair, who makes everything possible, and to Elizabeth Stilwell, whose work with the children and the community and the families and with the researcher in this seamless web has really made some of this intensive study of the child possible.
And I want to acknowledge several collaborators and many students, too many to list, who have worked with us and several grants that have helped us develop what we've been doing over time. So that's basically all I had.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a presentation by Human Development Outreach and Extension at Cornell University.
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Watch the full presentation with speaker footage and slides.
Barbara Lust discusses her research on language development, exploring such questions as when and how do children acquire language and what are the effects of acquiring more than one language at once.