Language Acquisition by Foreign-born Adoptees

March 16th, 2010 | Sources: Boston Globe

Preschool-age children adopted from foreign countries learn English in the same sequence as US-born babies do: they begin with single words and move to word combinations and complex grammar, according to Harvard scientists.

MusingPsychologist Jesse Snedeker and colleagues reached this conclusion after videotaping language acquisition by 141 international adoptees and comparing these observations with those made involving younger US counterparts.

Thus after being in the US for a few months, a 3 ½ year-old adoptee might use word combinations like “Andy shoe,’’ just like an 18-month old US-born child. A year later, the now 4 ½ year-old adoptee might have progressed to “my red shoe,’’ just like a US toddler would have done.

“Because babies are immature in so many ways, it’s easy to assume their language is simple because their minds are simple,’’ Snedeker told the Boston Globe. Her research has shown that’s not the case.

Snedeker’s research has shown that the older adoptees are quicker at progressing through English language acquisition than US-born babies, but they progress through the same stages and make the same kinds of grammatical mistakes.

Thus it seems that humans “might need to learn words like ‘ball’ and ‘shelf’ before they can learn a word like ‘on’ ’’ and produce a sentence like “the ball is on the shelf,’’ Snedeker told the Globe.

The one exception, according to Snedeker, is that the older adoptees tend to be quicker in using words referring to time, the future and the past. So apparently there are at least some areas where cognitive maturity comes into play.


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