Learning Strategies and Individual Differences (page 2)
The stages of development that have been identified by psycholinguistic researchers suggest that children approach the task of learning a language, any language, in similar ways, proceeding from babbling to one-word utterances to telegraphic speech to learning morphological rules and, ultimately, to the very complex syntactic structures of the language that require knowledge of constituents, insertion of grammatical morphemes, and rearrangement. But we have also seen that some of the strategies may vary according to the type of language a child is learning. If the language relies very heavily on word order to express grammatical relations, such as English, children will pay a great deal of attention to word order. But if a language relies more heavily on grammatical morphemes to express grammatical information, then the evidence suggests that children will learn to pay attention to those sooner. So, to some degree, children’s strategies for learning depend on the kind of language they are learning.
Beyond specific language-based strategies, children tend to exhibit some individual language acquisition strategies as well, even among children learning the same language. For example, some children have predictable pronunciations based on the adult language, while the pronunciation of others appears to be more flexible and “messier.” Other widely discussed individual preferences concern the distinction between referential and expressive children. Although some researchers regard this distinction with caution, it has been observed, for example, that some children, labeled “referential,” exhibit an early preference for naming objects as their first words, while others, labeled “expressive,” show a decided early preference for terms related to personal interaction, such as hi and bye-bye, or even longer phrases, such as I want it (Goldfield & Snow 1997, pp. 321–323). Children also seem to vary in their early two-word combinations along these same lines. Some make extensive use of pronouns and other function words, using I and my, for example, while others prefer to use full nouns. It has been suggested that these preferences reflect differences in a child’s initial assumptions about what language is for. Some may hypothesize that it is for talking about objects in the environment, while others may assume it is primarily to facilitate social interaction and to talk about people.
It has also been observed that individual children have different strategies for breaking up the stream of speech into smaller units. Some tend to focus on individual words, while others produce longer, phrase-like utterances, sometimes called “frozen phrases” because the pieces do not occur separately. It has further been suggested that these differences in early strategies continue into the syntax learning period; children who learn individual words learn to combine them, using a bottom-up strategy, while children who learn whole phrases first use a top-down strategy to break phrases up into smaller units (Goldfield & Snow 1997, pp. 325–328). Some researchers have suggested that these early language acquisition preferences may carry over into learning to read as well.
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