Field of Science

Babies learn a language by just listening to it. Can you?

Children seem to drink in language, while learning a language as an adult seems to be quite a challenge.

That said, it's not the case that you can't learn anything about language just by listening. A number of studies over the last few decades have shown that even adults can learn a certain amount of word and grammatical structure just by listening to a speech stream for a few minutes. The current focus of research is determining what, exactly, is learnable and what is not.

A lab-mate is currently running one such study online. I mentioned it on this blog a couple weeks ago, but then there were technical difficulties with the experiment, and I pulled the post. Here it is again.

The study does take 20 minutes or more, and you have to promise to pay attention and not do other things at the same time (which I hope is the case whenever you do a Web-based study!), but it's a good project and worth your donation time. When he has results ready to publish, I'll be sure to post them here.

You can find the study here.


Jeffrey Hayes said...

This post is really interesting, as I frequently get frustrated when I have difficulty mastering Spanish. More commonly I am meeting adults who speak more than two languages, and I am in disbelief when I hear it. Then I see more infants growing up with at least two languages in their home. My niece has already muttered English and Portuguese phrases (and she is not even 2 years old!). Another useful resource related to your post is Steven Pinker's "The Language Instinct." It is a great book for students interested in learning how babies learn a language without actually being "taught."

Phil said...

I thought it was rather interesting. I have taken courses in French and plan to major in it as well. After listening to the experiment I can understand how the human brain locates patterns in language.

I've often heard that it is easier to learn new languages when you are young and still in those formative years.

Stefan Schultze said...

Kids have no other way of communicating so they are naturally forced and inclined to pay attention to a language. Adults don't have the urgent need for learning it as in order to survive. Otherwise we would just soak it in like kids. Humans are good in what they need to survive at any age.