Language and Genes

Language and Genes

People with Williams syndrome, a genetic condition that produces moderate intellectual disability, have very large vocabularies in spite of their intellectual deficits. Bellugi, Wang, and Jernigan (1994) asked children with Down syndrome, which...

People with Williams syndrome, a genetic condition that produces moderate intellectual disability, have very large vocabularies in spite of their intellectual deficits. Bellugi, Wang, and Jernigan (1994) asked children with Down syndrome, which produces a similar level of intellectual disability as Williams syndrome, to name as many animals as possible. One child with Down syndrome said "horsie, dog, ice cream." In contrast, a child with Williams syndrome and the same IQ as the first child said, "weasel, newt, salamander, ibex, yak."

The Importance of Social Contact

Even if we do have an innate capacity for learning language, we have also been shaped to be a very social species. Social interaction, preferably one-on-one, produces the most rapid language learning. Conversation results in much better language competence in children than reading to them produces, although that activity certainly has its own benefits.One of the alarming modern trends is the practice of parking small children in front of screens instead of engaging them in conversation. Kuhl and her colleagues (2007, 2009) have shown that much more language learning takes place when a child is listening to a speaker in person than if the child is listening to the same speaker on a screen. Even though this is a one-way conversation, the social component is key. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have ZERO screen time prior to the age of 2 years.

Language learning has many unique characteristics. It seems to be nearly effortless to learn language prior to puberty, but few speakers learning a new language after puberty can learn to speak without an accent. Unlike reading and writing, language learning occurs with simple exposure rather than direct instruction. Assuming that human beings have an innate, built-in capacity for learning language is consistent with many of these observations. Continued someone write my essay for children for whom language learning does not proceed easily, such as children with dyslexia or autism spectrum disorder, should provide further insight into how this learning takes place.

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