Language and Word Learning

"Just like sponges??" How young children learn words, facts, and symbols

Many people, including psychologists, think preschool children are very good at learning new words. Some believe children have evolved specialized skills for learning words. Certainly humans have evolved traits that, as we develop, show up as species-unique learning skills, such as for language. However, it is an open question whether these learning abilities are specialized for word learning and vocabulary-building. In past work we argued that "constraints-based" frameworks are not helpful for characterizing children's word learning.

In ongoing work we have found that preschool children are not necessarily adept at learning new words for objects. Under some circumstances they make many errors, and may actually be better at learning other kinds of information like facts or picture symbols. On the other hand, young children are good at applying or accepting different words for a thing (for example, "dog," "pet," and "animal"). Thus, from age 2-3 years their word usage is quite flexible.

Related Publications: Learning studies