As Andy Ross learned to speak English, he progressed from simple word combinations like “Andy shoe’’ to the more complex “my red shoe,’’ just like any toddler.I'm always unsettled by research that uses adoptees to study something else, but this research does seem to benefit international adoptees in helping to explain their language acquisition while also offering insight into the larger picture of language acquisition.
But Andy was older when he began to learn English, after being adopted from Russia, and his chatter - taped in weekly sessions - has provided scientists important clues about how language develops.
Harvard psychologists are finding that preschool-age children adopted from foreign countries learn English in the same sequence as babies: starting with single words and progressing to word combinations and complex grammar.
That means it is not the maturity of the brain but the nature of language itself that dictates how it is learned, the Harvard scientists say.
“Because babies are immature in so many ways, it’s easy to assume their language is simple because their minds are simple,’’ said Jesse Snedeker, the Harvard psychologist leading the research. But this appears not to be the case, she said.
The research is helping scientists and families understand what to expect when a child who may already know one language is plunged into a new one. And it could eventually lead to better ways to teach language.
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