The Effects on Language Acquisition in Children

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Breyasia Scott, COL ’20

I was drawn to this PURM project at the Child Language and Learning Lab because of my minor in American Sign Language/Deaf Studies. My minor required me to take classes in the Linguistics field, and from there I became really interested in how children acquire language.

At the Dr. Schuler’s lab I ran a training experiment called the Pattern Learning Study. The goal of the Pattern Learning Study was to see how kids learn language in an inconsistent environment and how they differ from adults at doing so. Inconsistent input is language input that contains mistakes or errors. This often occurs when the language teacher is not a native speaker of the language that the child in learning. In this particular study, children learned an artificial language called Silly Speak in which they would expose to two different plural markers, ka and po. In the exposure portion of the computer game, ka was heard 67% of the time, making in the majority plural marker and po was heard 33% of the time, making it the minority plural marker. In language acquisition, it is typical for children to overgeneralize and use the form they hear the most, whereas adults tend to replicate the percentage that they hear. Therefore, in the Pattern Learning Study, in the production level of the game, where participants had to provide an ending, we expected children to produce ka 100% of the time and po 0% of the time. In contrast, we expected adults to produce ka 67% of the time and po 33% of the time.

This summer I learned that it takes years to develop research and the conditions must be perfect. It’s easy to coerce children to give you the answer that you want but that results in unusable data. Furthermore, I learned quite a lot about myself while working at the Child Language and Learning Lab. While I loved some of the more interactive parts of research such as reading the literature reviews on previous work done in the field and playing with children participants to make them feel comfortable in the lab, I didn’t really enjoy the more technical aspects like inputting data and learning how to code. Because research requires all of these steps, I don’t think the field is quite right for me. I, however, look forward to reading literature reviews of the studies conducted by my peers in the future.

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