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How To Learn Sign Language

The Interactionist Approach to Language Acquisition (Intro Psych Tutorial #86)


Hi, I’m Michael Corayer and this is Psych
Exam Review. In the previous video I talked about this idea of a critical
period for language acquisition and this is the idea that if children aren’t
exposed to language prior to about the age of seven then they’re unable to
develop full linguistic fluency in any language. Now this idea brings us to
consider the role of the environment on language development. So it’s not just
the case that we have a genetic predisposition for language and it just
emerges, but we need to have the correct environment in order to realize that
full potential. This brings us to consider the role of the social
environment more carefully when it comes to language acquisition and this brings
us to what’s called an interactionist approach to language acquisition.
The interactionist approach recognizes that we seem to have a
genetic predisposition for language acquisition that other animals don’t
have but that we also have a social environment that plays an important role
in the full development of language ability. So when we think about the way
the children develop language, it’s not the case that they simply sit there
listening to adults talk and then one day they jump into the conversation,
right? Instead we see that there’s this process of development and adults and
even other children are actively involved in shaping that development.
It’s also the case that children aren’t simply learning language, right? They’re
not just learning vocabulary and syntactical rules, right? They’re learning
how to interact with others and they’re learning how to communicate. So this
brings us to what a researcher named Jerome Bruner referred to as the
language acquisition support system and this was in contrast to Chomsky’s
language acquisition device, the idea of this genetic predisposition. So
Bruner suggests we have this language acquisition support system; these are the
features of the social environment that help language ability to emerge. So
it’s not the case that adults simply talk and children listen and then they
develop language but adults do things like direct the child’s attention to
certain things, so they tell a child what to focus on and they ask
questions to the child and then they label things. So they point things out
and “say this is a dog” “this is a cat” and they provide feedback when the
child makes mistakes. So when the child has learned the word dog and then later
sees a cat and points to it and says dog the adult can say “no, actually this is a
cat and they’re similar but they’re, you know, we use different words for these”.
And so this provides this support system or this scaffolding that allows the
language to develop more fully. Okay, so another thing that’s different with the
way that adults interact with children is that they don’t speak to them like
adults right? You are probably aware of this yourself anytime you found
yourself talking to a young child you probably find that you talk differently,
right? You adjust your language use in order to help the child to understand
and to help the child to develop his or her own language ability. This is often referred to as motherese or caregiver talk or baby talk and this is
a common feature in all sorts of languages; that adults don’t talk to
children the same way they talk to other adults. This is part of this
environment that’s helping the child to develop language ability and helping the
child to communicate. So when we think about this interactionist approach, one
of the best examples of the role of the social environment on language
acquisition comes from Nicaragua in the mid-1980s. So what happened was that a
new deaf school was created in Managua, the capital, and children from remote
villages were brought together and the goal was to teach them a formal sign
language because what happened was a lot of children who were in remote villages
who were deaf, they didn’t have a full language around them, they didn’t have
exposure to a full grammatically-complex sign language, so they had simple
gestures and they could communicate with family and friends but they weren’t
really being exposed to complex language use. So the hope was bring all
of these children together and then teach them a formal sign language and
this would be a great improvement for them. One of the problems that they
had was the children actually didn’t seem to want to learn the formal sign
language. What happened was the formal sign language was just too slow.
If you take a bunch of children who want to interact and communicate with one
another and you put them all together they’re gonna find a way to communicate
and they weren’t going to wait around until, you know, three months from now
we’re gonna learn how to talk about some particular thing. “‘I want to talk about it
right now.” So the children essentially invented
their own sign language in order to communicate with one another and
initially this was dismissed as being mimicry or miming or you know
really simple gestures or slang or something like that. And it turns out that it actually was a full language and it developed the full
grammatical complexity and syntactical rules of any other language. This
shows us this role of the social environment in helping
with this language development. This language didn’t emerge in these
isolated cases where you had children in a remote village but put enough of them
together where they want to interact and they want to communicate and that social
environment will allow language to emerge. Now this also demonstrates the
critical period that I mentioned before because children who were over the age
of seven were not able to develop full linguistic fluency in this new language
but children who were younger than this, who were exposed to this new language,
were able to develop full fluency just like anybody else who’s exposed to their
native language. Okay, I hope you found this helpful, if so, please like the video
and subscribe to the channel for more! Thanks for watching!

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