Tag Archives: language development

Deb Roy: The birth of a word

13 Dec


Last night I watched this fascinating TED talk given by MIT researcher Deb Roy.  Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language — so he wired up his house with video cameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son’s life.  He ended up with 90,000 hours of home video.  Using the 3 years of video footage, Roy traced each new word his son learned to the specific circumstances that led to his son’s acquisition of the word.  For example, he showed how his son’s babbling slowly changed from “gaaaa” into “water.” He looked at every context in which his son heard the word “water” during his first three years of life.  Roy analyzed many variables, such as who was present during each occurrence of the word “water” in the home, what room of the house were they in, and what were the adult language models or how was the word ‘water’ embedded in a sentence?

Roy’s research is data intensive and allowed him to draw conclusions and make connections between environment, language and learning.  He used beautiful, systematic, high-tech graphics to display his data.  The question of how we acquire new words during infancy has been explored readily in the field of language development.  We know that babies learn new words through repeated exposure, that it’s largely dependent on context and surroundings (ie. hearing the word water and seeing water at the same time), and utterance length of the language model (does mom embed the new word in short 1-2 word phrases or in long, complex sentences?).  However, Roy’s data is novel in that the time-lapse technology he uses and his graphic displays have implications for a new way of observing word acquisition over time and provides a closer look at how learning is taking place.

Roy also extends his findings to social media and examines how people behave and communicate in response to specific events in time.  He explores and pinpoints how trends get started, and how new ideas spread, through social media.

Roy’s research both confirmed what we already know about how babies acquire new words and pushed the field of Language & Communication Sciences to a new boundary.  Scientists may have a new way to create models and graphically display language data, connect language circumstances and observe not only language acquisition in infancy, but the larger implications for tracing behavioral patterns through language in social media.

As a Language Development nerd, I found this talk fascinating, and if you have 20 minutes to watch the video, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Social Skills and Judging Other’s Intentions

18 Nov

Social skills, and social communication is something that comes easily to some students, and for others, it needs to be explicitly taught.   Many students with language disorders have difficulty understanding figurative language, sarcasm, the body language of their communication partner, and other people’s intentions.  Using puppets to act out a variety of social situations is one thing I do in therapy to help students understand the intentions of other people and to make sarcastic and figurative language more concrete.

A large part of the ability to effectively and functionally communicate with others lies way beyond the words we say.  Being able to recognize someone’s intention or feelings based on tone, voice volume, facial expressions, body language and sarcasm is an extremely subtle part of communication.  We often don’t even realize the extent to which we use these “extra pieces” of language to communicate with each other.  Helping our kids to be successful judges of these aspects of language is critical to their overall ability to be functional communicators at home, in school, with friends, and eventually at work.

I came across some new research today in the New York Times about the ability to judge other people’s intentions in typically developing children.  The new research in the journal Child Development, suggests that children as young as 3 years old can judge a person’s intention.  Previously, it was thought that children wern’t aware of other people’s intentions until the age of 5 or 6.

What kinds of things can teachers do in the classroom and parents do at home to help foster your child’s awareness of other’s intentions?

Here are a few tips:

  • Talk about facial expressions you see in magazines.  Ask your child, “Is this person happy or sad? How do you know?
  • Cut out different pictures from magazines that exemplify “sad, happy, silly, surprised, hurt, afraid, proud,” etc.  Make up scenarios such as “Jamel’s mom unexpectedly showed up in his classroom for reading time.”  Ask your child to point to how they think Jamel felt [surprised].
  • Play guessing games about different facial expressions.  Can you make a face that is [sad, happy, silly, worried, surprised, etc.]?  or What kind of face am I making?
  • Use “social scripts” so that your child knows exactly what is expected in a certain situation.  For example, before going to the playground with your child, you can rehearse exactly what they can say to another child to ask them to play.  In therapy, I have pictures that I use that describe what happens when someone orders food at McDonalds.   Then, I walk through it step by step with the student, using the pictures to support what I am saying. “When I go to a fast food restaurant I stand in line until it is my time to order. The person taking the order will say something like, “Hi, what would you like to order?” I will say, “I want a cheeseburger, a small order of fries and a small coke.” If he asks me if I want anything else, I will say “No.” I will then hand him a five dollar bill and will be given some change. I will say, “Thank you,” when I get my food.”      – script from http://www.education.com

Social Skills Games on the Internet:

If you’re interested in working with your child more at home or if you are a teacher interested in learning more about ways to integrate social skills into your classroom, please contact me and I’d be happy to share many more ideas and brainstorm with you to come up with strategies specific to your child’s/ student’s needs.

Babbling is Key to Language Development

14 Oct

Research has long suggested that a baby’s babble is an important precursor to speech and language development.

This article, which appeared in the  New York Times on October 11th, discusses some new, interesting research on the topic of how  babble becomes the foundation for language development.

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