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Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
|Subject:||Child Language Acquisition & Difficulty of the Language|
|Question:||Hello, There seems to be agreement that some languages are more difficult to learn as a second language. But I'm wondering if children born into environments where the more ''difficult'' languages are spoken take longer to achieve a certain level of linguistic competency (acquire vocabulary or master the syntax). I read on one of your FAQ's that it does take children longer to learn to pronounce, for example, words that have multiple consonants in a row. But I'm curious about comparative learning rates other aspects of language. Thank you very much.|
|Reply:||The rate of acquisition of a first language is the same across languages. Nevertheless, some areas that might be particularly complex in one language might take children longer to master than that same feature in a language in which those features are not complex. For example, English-speaking children acquire the ability to indicate the plural of nouns pretty early ["more than one" is cognitively fairly simple], but the fine details of making a noun plural takes English-speaking children quite a while--that is, they add -s to all nouns, even words like "mouse" and "goose." [I should add, however, that children are often aware of the irregular plural but cannot use it in the process of "online" speaking. When I asked my 3-year-old daughter "What are mice?" she answered, quite confidently, "Mice are mouses!"] The same phenomenon occurs with irregular English verbs, with children applying -ed to many irregular ones [e.g., "The bell ringed."] For a language that indicates plurality in a more straightforward fashion, children acquire that feature perfectly without the "mistakes" that English-speaking children make; children learning that language will seem precocious. If the plural in a language is more complex than the English system, children will lag in expressing plurality when compared to their English-speaking counterparts. Chinese acquisition provides an interesting example for us English-speakers. As you may know, Chinese is a tone language, one which uses pitch to differentiate words that are identical in every other respect. For adult English speakers learning Chinese as a second language, this feature can be quite difficult to master, but for a child reared in a Chinese-speaking environment, it is quite simple. They master the tone system quite effortlessly. In short, languages present about the same level of overall complexity to the children acquiring them, though each language provides unique challenges; what is simple in one language is difficult in another and vice versa.|
|Reply From:||Marilyn N Silva click here to access email|