Do you agree with the BF Skinner behaviorist view on how children acquire language or the opposing view? Sapolsky gives a short 8 Minute discussion on this that is quite interesting. Thoughts?
May 3, 2018 5:04 PM
Comments · 21

(1) How does a child acquire language? That’s the main topic of the this Skinner/ Chomsky controversy that seems to me rather obsolete, since it goes back to the sixties. Today we know that a child needs to interact in order to learn how to speak. You cannot put a baby in front of a TV and hope that he will learn to speak.

Modern psycholinguistic has shown that babies have already a very advanced sound processing system. At birth, they recognize most of the sounds of speech but must adjust this system to the particularities of their native language.

May 4, 2018

I am biased because I hate Skinner's general approach.  He was such a purist and behavior had to follow his rigid rules of positive and negative reinforcement.  You don't have to religious to believe that man is more than stimulus and reward.

That bias noted language is a place where Skinner's strict behavioral arguments blew up in his face and Chomsky was quite good at kicking Skinner when he was down.  Behaviorism is severely lacking when accounting for how children learn languages, and the argument can be made that if positive and negative reinforcement were how we learn language as children there is no way we would acquire the amount of vocabulary the average person knows.

Chomsky was right, language learning is directly connected to innate processes, our desire to interact and communicate with the world around us.  His example of children generating and expanding their vocabulary by picking up grammar and rules is spot on, and a very strong argument.  And it is also what makes English frustrating at times -all the rules exceptions.

The real key is taking these ideas and predicting what would better help adult learners of second languages (most italki users).  I leave that argument for some of the teachers on the forum.

May 4, 2018

"Why no one pays attention to this thread"

Maybe they don't want to watch the video. I don't. You have to listen to that potato-in-the-mouth accent I avoid whenever I can. Now if the video was in German it would be a different story.

May 4, 2018

Thanks for your reply NealC. I thought for some reason people might be interested in learning about competing theories of language learning on a language board, but I knew it would be tough competiting with such topics like „Ever ride a horse?“ , „Cosmetic surgery“ or „Let’s Talk football!“ 

So,  you’re the first. And yes, this leads to the bigger question of how all this research ties into the way adults can learn languages most efficiently. Of course, it’s hard competing with discussions about the weather. 

May 4, 2018

(3) From  2 to 5 years children learn a new word every hour. That amounts to 3500 words a year!

Toddlers start to use grammar and combine small phrases. But they will not learn repeating like a parrot. They need to interact. Parents adjust their way of speaking naturally to the need of their child, they slow down, make shorter sentences. It seems that in English this kind of baby talk is called “motherese”.

That said, Skinner was right: babies need interaction.

Chomsky was also right: babies have the innate capacity to detect the grammar structure of the language which is taught to them.

May 4, 2018
Show more
Language Skills
English, French, German
Learning Language