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Education Science

Toddlers May Learn Language By Data Mining 213

Posted by kdawson
from the network-effects dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "Toddlers' brains can effortlessly do what the most powerful computers with the most sophisticated software cannot: learn language simply by hearing it used. A ground-breaking new theory postulates that young children are able to learn large groups of words rapidly by data-mining. Researchers Linda Smith and Chen Yu attempted to teach 28 children, 12 to 14 months old, six words by showing them two objects at a time on a computer monitor while two pre-recorded words were read to them. No information was given regarding which word went with which image. After viewing various combinations of words and images, however, the children were surprisingly successful at figuring out which word went with which picture. Yu and Smith say it's possible that the more words tots hear, and the more information available for any individual word, the better their brains can begin simultaneously ruling out and putting together word-object pairings, thus learning what's what. Yu says if they can identify key factors involved in this form of learning and how it can be manipulated, they might be able to make learning languages easier for children and adults. Understanding children's learning mechanisms could also further machine learning."
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Toddlers May Learn Language By Data Mining

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  • Interesting, but... (Score:5, Informative)

    by gujo-odori (473191) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @11:54PM (#22317382)
    ...I'm not quite sure it's going to change how we think about learning, as they state in TFA. I majored in linguistics, and even way back then, it was well understood by researchers in language acquisition that context played a significant role in both first and second language acquisition, but especially first. A form of data mining may well be part of the mechanics of what was happening in the experiment, but the whole way it was set up, and the way the subjects figured out what word went with what picture, had a lot to do with context. I don't mean to put down their research - this is really quite interesting - but it's also not quite the huge deal TFA seemst o suggest it is.
    • by linest (157204) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:03AM (#22317442)
      What they've done is taken the same old thing that wasn't clearly understood and put the label "data mining" on it. Now that it's been labeled, some will feel like we've got a better handle on it than we did before.
      • by mikael (484)
        Sounds like the old debate of "real books" vs "phonics". [bbc.co.uk]

        In "real books", the idea was that you could just place a large pile of books in front of a group of toddlers and they would teach themselves to read.

        In "phonics", the basic sound of each syllable is taught first, along with some basic words and pictures (cat, mat, apple, pea, and so on).

      • There are computer programs which perform statistical learning of vocabulary and seem to match many characteristics of human learning. Here's part of a very interesting blog post on Latent Semantic Analysis [blogspot.com]:
        • after training, LSA performed at 64.4% correct on a multiple choice test of synonymity taken from TOEFL (in contrast, humans score around 64.5% on average on this test, which is frequently used as a college entrance examination of English proficiency in non-native speakers. By this metric, LSA would
      • Man if someone would only apply this to teaching adults foreign languages i bet they would make a mint.

        Perhaps call it something like Rosetta stone...
    • by mrxak (727974) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:06AM (#22317470)
      Yeah, isn't it a lot of almost random trial-and-error, paying attention to non-verbal clues? Like, when a baby smiles, it gets a lot of attention. When a baby manages to put together something simple like ma-ma or da-da, suddenly there's happy parents all jumping up and down with excitement.
      • by jp25666 (620034) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @01:28AM (#22317928)
        That might be part of it, but that's definitely not the whole story. In particular, there are some language errors that babies simply do not make. Likewise, there is a general pattern that all babies follow when acquiring a language. These aspects of acquisition cannot be explained by positive reinforcement alone: they are a result of general cognition or the language faculty, or they are somehow an artifact of the human language learning algorithm.
      • by rucs_hack (784150) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @01:56AM (#22318082)
        When a baby manages to put together something simple like ma-ma or da-da, suddenly there's happy parents all jumping up and down with excitement.

        Actually, the first sound (aside from crying) that a baby is capable of forming is the sound 'ma', and subsequently 'ma-ma'. Unfortunately, all those mothers who believe their child is referring to them are mistaken, although the term rapidly becomes associated with mother anyway, so it gets to be true after a while.

        It should be obvious really, how else would every child ever born (that could vocalise) select the same sound?

        I'm less sure about da-da. I know 'da' is another sound that a child can form earlier, but that's all.
        • by gujo-odori (473191) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @02:19AM (#22318178)
          I give a little more weight to the "ma ma" = "baby is talking to mom" than that. The reason why is my first daughter's first word as an infant was the Vietnamese world for "dad" ( b). She didn't start using the word for "mother" (m ) until much later. Coincidence? Possibly, but she had the tone correct as well, not just the consonant+vowel sound, which is a stronger argument for actual speech rather than coincidence. Additionally, she would say it only when she saw me, not at other times.
        • I'm less sure about da-da. I know 'da' is another sound that a child can form earlier, but that's all.
          Especially, since in most languages, it's papa, not dada.
          • by the_olo (160789)

            Especially, since in most languages, it's papa, not dada.


            However, although in my language it's papa and I'm currently teaching my son to pronounce it consciously, he started with "dada" earlier than "papa". The plural of "anecdote" is not "data", of course, but it seems that at least for him "dada" was available earlier.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by sim60 (967365)

          Actually, the first sound (aside from crying) that a baby is capable of forming is the sound 'ma', and subsequently 'ma-ma'. Unfortunately, all those mothers who believe their child is referring to them are mistaken, although the term rapidly becomes associated with mother anyway, so it gets to be true after a while.

          It should be obvious really, how else would every child ever born (that could vocalise) select the same sound?

          Babies make a lot of different sounds well before they say 'ma': squealing, gig

        • No question of that...Mine was a talker, and never said "Ma-Ma" but always "mamamamamamamamamamamama." Not that a lot of my relatives didn't think it should count anyway.

          It is interesting to see them pick things up; you spend all day trying to teach them to say a word like "apple" and then you say something like, "Can you bring me the apple?" and they grab the right thing, and do the right action.

          I think its interesting how far actual vocalization lags behind the conceptual development, though I suppose tha
          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            As far as vocalization lagging behind conceptual development, that is very true. However, a lot of people teach their kids basic sign language in order to help them communicate before they can actually vocalize what they want. Look up Baby Signs if you want more info on that. I think it's more that kids don't have the proper motor control to make all the necessary sounds, but can easily make gestures which convey the same message.
      • by potpie (706881) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @02:24AM (#22318202) Journal
        It's actually very interesting how big a role context plays. If a child sees a ball under a table and hears adults referring to it as a ball, the child knows that it is a ball. However, the child cannot be sure exactly what makes it a ball. Does it have to be shiny? Does it have to be round? Does it have to be under a table? Does it have to be in the daytime? Does it have to be a certain color? Does it have to be positioned in a certain way? Does it need to be a certain size? Since the child does not have all this information, overextensions occur. For instance, a child may refer to a dog as a rug because he thinks "rug" means "something furry." Meaningful input is also a huge part of the acquisition mechanism, as you say, but it goes beyond emotional reaction. Actually, children are resistant to correction. If your child keeps making a mistake over and over again, instruction will not help, only time and hearing the correct usage enough. This goes along with the "Active Construction of a Grammar" model.
        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          You see this a lot with kids. Kids who have a dog at home will often refer to all small, furry, 4 legged mammals as dogs, including cats. While those more familiar with cats will call them all cats. Eventually they learn to distinguish between them, but can often get confused with small dogs.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Hyperspite (980252)
        This was first proposed by Skinner way back when in his operant conditioning theory. I'm sure that operant conditioning is part of it, but if IIRC, there are a bunch of experiments that show that isn't it. I'm too lazy to drag out my psych book.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)
      When my son was a couple of months old he started to use the word "poo" when we were changing his nappy. Of course, he heard that word a lot in that context. This article doesn't surprise me at all.

      Eventually he abandoned that behaviour and later replaced it with a more sophisticated model. Presumably he had then collected enough data to get a better idea of how our language worked.
    • by sv0f (197289)
      I'm not quite sure it's going to change how we think about learning, as they state in TFA

      You're right. This is old wine in new bottles. Notice the source: a University of Indiana press release. One wonders how this bit of ho-hum research made its way to Slashdot...
    • by mwvdlee (775178)
      The way this experiment was set up wouldn't be difficult for a computer to beat at all.
      Sound quite deterministic to me.
      You get two images (to a computer these would be like indexes into a database, assuming they used the identical image every time) and you get two pre-recorded words (again, identical every time, so just two indexes).
      So, if we give assign images letter index and words numerical ones, we could get:
      A, B and 1, 2
      C, D and 3, 4
      E, F and 5, 6
      and then...
      A, F and 2, 1
      How difficult would it be for a c
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jurily (900488)
      it was well understood by researchers in language acquisition that context played a significant role in both first and second language acquisition, but especially first.

      It should even in the second. In fact, that's the primary and most effective mode of learning for the human brain. That's also why formal education sucks.
      • "That's also why formal education sucks."

        Pity the mods missed that comment, pearls before swine I tell ya.
    • by Stooshie (993666)

      ... the whole way it was set up, and the way the subjects figured out what word went with what picture, had a lot to do with context ...

      Surely the experiment was more to do with learning out of context. If anything the experiment is not about context at all. It's about their brains being able to go through huge amounts of data(orders of magnitude more than learning one word at a time) in order to learn words.

      We learn from this that toddlers brains are extremely quick at processing data. Probably much

    • by Keebler71 (520908)
      This is just dumb... everyone knows kids learn to speak from the tv.
  • cognizant factors laughing mainly if no can wormhole torsion mostly antibacterial softly

    got that?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bkr1_2k (237627)
      Hey, now I know who to complain to. Those damn pills don't do anything, you liar.
  • Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chuckymonkey (1059244) <charles.d.burton@NoSPaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @11:57PM (#22317408) Journal
    This is why I've never talked to either of my children in "baby talk". I've always talked to them like they're adults (minus swearing and things like that) and as a result my eldest talks like a six or seven year (she's two) and my youngest... well she's just a few months old but she knows mom and dad. It really is interesting to see the difference between the children that aren't expected to speak and those that are. My eldest has never gotten away with pointing and grunting for things, she always had to at least try to say what she wanted and we'll do the same for the baby when she's around the right age. What kills me though is that the eldest is starting to use sarcasm.... that just blows my mind when she does it. Children's minds are the most amazing things, when people say sponge that doesn't even begin to describe it. Given a lot of patience and a lot of work from the parents children can learn at incredible rates. I only wish that I knew more languages so that I could teach them at this young age so they'd be fluent, I'm really considering taking a job in Europe partially for that reason and cultural exposure for them.
    • by elloGov (1217998) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:13AM (#22317516)
      That's awesome man! I just learned "Da Da" two weeks ago and I am 20 something. I guess the time was just right.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MightyYar (622222)
      Mine says "wa-wa" for water, and that's the way I likes it!

      I also let her run around the park while her brethren are in various classes. I guess she'll never be president. I do wish I knew Spanish, though - that seems to be a more and more popular language these days in the US.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by peccary (161168)
      Huh. That explains why my @#$%^& kid swears like a #$% sailor, too.
    • by kongit (758125) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:37AM (#22317662)
      hmm when I somehow come by a kid I will only talk to him in C. Eventually I will start talking in C++ to him. And lastly I will recite perl poetry. After he has mastered these 3 things I will introduce him to shakespeare. hmm maybe I won't be such a good parent, but my kid will be able to hack your kid's computer.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:53AM (#22317744)
        I will start talking in C++ to him.

        I'm pretty sure that qualifies as child abuse.

        • by PReDiToR (687141)
          Did you miss the bit where GP said "perl poetry"?
          Perl is just child abuse in a way that MicroSoft dream of!

          If only schools would teach Vi instead of Emacs *sigh*

          Mods: Jay Oh Kay Ee. (Retarded mods: JOKE, as in not flaimbait, more a comment on the MS structured environment presented by most educational establishments).
          Silly me, ponies!!!!!!!1111111one!!!1

          --

          This post written whilst drunk!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Run4yourlives (716310)
        And lastly I will recite perl poetry.

        It's child abusers like you that need to be locked up for a long time. :-)
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by EnglishSteve (834757)
        And lastly I will recite perl poetry

        At least it's not Vogon Poetry...

      • Heh, funny enough I'm about to start teaching her some basics in computer usage and programming since she has taken an interest in what "Daddy's doing on the computer". There's a great little tool for linux called Little Wizard [sourceforge.net] that parents such as myself can use for that, it's really cool.
      • Hamlet in C (Score:4, Funny)

        by Comboman (895500) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:48AM (#22319902)
        2*B || !(2*B)

        It always equates to true, so I guess Shakespeare was onto something.

    • by tsa (15680)
      Hre in NL we would say that your kids are 'hoogbegaafd', which means they have an extremely high IQ and should be treated with extra care and sent to special schools just so they learn that they are very special and become obnoxious brats. I'm glad to see there is a different way of treating them. And sorry about the sarcasm. Dutch fads often get to me.
    • Just goes to show you, the more you expect from children, the more they deliver. Our modern society's greatest crime is treating children like an idealized Alice-in-Wonderland stereotype of children.

      I wouldn't advise teaching European languages - they'll be obsolete in a generation. Arabic would be a more worthwhile substitute, as it's spoken over a much larger area, and most European children will speak it in 20 years anyway.

    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by xigxag (167441) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @01:44AM (#22318016)
      I don't know any of the science in this area, but since everywhere I've been in the world, across languages and cultures, parents seem to speak "baby talk" to their kids, I would guess that it has some purpose, evolutionarily speaking. I'm not saying you're doing anything wrong, I'm just saying don't be so sure it is a superior method. Also, I'd venture a guess that at some point, your little ones will more or less know English and that will be that. And eventually other kids will catch up to their level, and maybe surpass them.

      My GF's nephew grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and was basically fluent at 4. But now, at age 13, he seems to have mostly forgotten it in favor of his dominant language, English. Same thing happened with a GF I had when I was much younger. Kids have a tremendous ability to learn things. But also to utterly forget them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by chuckymonkey (1059244)
        You're very very correct in that. That's why I always take the time to explain things to her especially if she asks a question, most people make the mistake of thinking that children don't understand things and for some things that's true, for most though that is very wrong. For instance when I'm cooking I always let her be my little helper and explain the entire process while I do it, such as bread. I show her the measurements for everything and explain what they are, tell her about the different ingred
      • by oliphaunt (124016)

        eventually other kids will catch up to their level, and maybe surpass them.

        ok, but it's also possible that won't happen. There are a lot of people who never really get all the rules of English, despite living in the US their entire lives.

        And kids learn from their surroundings. A child who is spoken to as though he or she is an intelligent adult will naturally develop a better vocabulary than a kid who only hears "GODDAMMIT JIMMY! Shut the hell up when Dr. Phil is on TV."

    • Thank you for your interesting post. I'll actually keep it in mind if I will ever have children myself.

      I have had the plan for a long time to help them with foreign languages as well. Reading your paragraph about this makes me wonder right now if one cannot just turn on, say, a Japanese TV program for children or a simple audio book. You/we might not understand the language, but it might give your child a feeling/foundation for that language (or at least its sounds and pronunciation) which might really help
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SillyWilly (692755)
      I find your comment interesting. When I studied Linguistics at uni a few years ago, there was a fair amount of evidence that "baby talk", or "motherese [wikipedia.org]" as it is sometimes known, is extremely beneficial to a child's language acquisition (see section 2.1.1 of the Wikipedia page for an overview). Though I commend your parenting efforts, I would humbly submit that people who do use "baby talk" are not doing their children a disservice.
    • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:05AM (#22319062)

      I only wish that I knew more languages so that I could teach them at this young age so they'd be fluent

      Do what my mum did: buy albums of kids songs in foreign languages (in my case only French). When I was about four, I could sing in a perfect French accent. Didn't have a clue what I was saying, but the accent was there. When I started learning French about 8 years later I had no problems. My ear was primed and my mouth was primed, so I could handle the sound system without problems, and it's the sounding like a foreigner/lunatic that frustrates most people when learning languages.

      HAL.

    • by bkr1_2k (237627)
      Exactly. I wouldn't allow anyone to speak to my daughter (12 now) in "baby talk" and when she was two she was speaking in complete (and understandable) sentences. People always asked how she spoke so well and the only answer I could come up with was that we treated her like an intelligent person when speaking to her, rather than a toy that was somehow incapable of understanding us.

      Definitely worth it to teach languages. Learn with your children. Mine spoke Korean before she spoke English (Korean is my t
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Kids say the darndest things, or so Bill Cosby would have us believe.
    • by Kingrames (858416)
      It works.
      My grandfather was an English teacher, my mom never baby talked to me.
      I was correcting people's grammar, spelling, and punctuation when I was first able to talk.
  • Effortless? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by krazytekn0 (1069802) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:18AM (#22317550) Homepage Journal
    Have you ever watched a toddler try to talk? Nothing about learning to talk is "effortless" anyone who says so either not a parent, or not thinking clearly.
    • Re:Effortless? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:24AM (#22317586)

      Nothing about learning to talk is "effortless" anyone who says so either not a parent, or not thinking clearly.
      That's what I was thinking. They get so frustrated when they can't say what they want to say. 50% of my current parenting is spent calming the child down from frustration (she's almost 2). It seems about as effortless as training for a marathon.
    • The toddlers have no problem talking. It's understanding them that is the difficult part.

      My almost two year old is quite expressive - but his 'words' at the moment are single syllables. He quite clearly has a large vocabulary and knows what he means, but I have difficulty working out what he means. For example, on the bus the other day he kept saying "T", "T", "T". I couldn't work it out? Toe? T-shirt? No, I eventually worked out it was Tree. He was pointing to everyone he could see, and there were rather a
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by krazytekn0 (1069802)
        My issue is not with talking per-se, it's with the idea that LEARNING to talk is "effortless", it's not. The majority of Toddlers spend a fair amount of time frustrated because of what they are trying to learn. If you're a parent and honestly think that it's easy being that age than either A. you don't know your kid very well, or B. Your kid is super-human. Do little kids typically get their nouns confused all the time because learning to talk is effortless? Are parents instinctually wired to speak differen
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I'll agree with your sentiment but disagree in some respects.

          It takes time for a child to learn language. A toddler can get frustrated when parents (or others) don't understand what they want. But the language acquisition process is not hard in the same way as learning is hard for adults. They do not need to conciously do it. It is more instinctive and automatic than if I were to try to learn another language. Furthermore, the problem is not understanding and learning the language - the problem is expressin
        • Re:Effortless? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Belial6 (794905) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @01:10AM (#22317834)
          You are correct. People are always amazed at how quickly children learn to speak. I say that if you took your average adult, put them into a fully immersive foreign language environment, where they could not get anything for themselves, they would learn the foreign language even faster than a child. Heck, to make it a fair comparison, you also would have to give the adult multiple tutors who will happily spend every day helping with identifying words and correcting pronunciation.

          Depending on your definition, most kids would not be considered fluent with their first language until the age of 4 or 5, and then generally still speak it with an accent. I would say that this is not all really any different than an adult. They are actually probably a little slower.
  • by Itninja (937614) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:18AM (#22317554) Homepage
    ...Children have freakishly absorbent brains! Seriously, hasn't this type of info been pretty much common knowledge for like ever? Just because you attach a buzzword to it, doesn't make it a new discovery. Where's the study showing that babies and puppies have 'upward marketability'?
  • by nguy (1207026) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:28AM (#22317616)
    Data mining is just a new word for discovering statistical associations in data. Of course, children learn words by learning statistical associations between images and speech sounds; that's pretty much a tautology. I mean, what's the alternative? Divine inspiration? Toddlers running around with dictionaries?
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:33AM (#22317648)
    My sister had a kid a year ago and the only mining I ever see him doing is in his nose.
    • by tsa (15680)
      My sister had a kid a year ago

      What did she do with it, bring it back to the dealer?
  • by niktemadur (793971) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:47AM (#22317718)
    Anyone here familiar with the Nicaraguan school for deaf-mute children in the early eighties?

    The first phase of the project was to teach these children the sign-alphabet. After this, I'm not sure if they were going to teach the full english or spanish sign-language (seems there's not an international standard for sign-language), but the point is that after a year, the experiment was deemed a failure and abandoned.

    Then a couple of years later, reports started trickling out of these deaf-mute children exchanging unintelligible gibberish with their hands. A couple of researchers flew in, and were astonished to discover that these kids, using the sign-alphabet as a starting point, had developed a complete, unique language of their own in just two or three years - the first ever documented report of a fully formed, structured language bursting spontaneously into existence. These children are, of course, now adults in their thirties, still in touch with each other and communicating amongst themselves in the language they invented three decades ago.

    And now, for something completely different...

    Terrence McKenna, that lovable old psychonaut, postulated an empirical assumption in the eighties and nineties - language was created over many generations, via deep psilocybin trance rituals, of which the whole tribe partook. One by one, abstract concepts emerged in the back and forth play between members of the tribe, led and refereed of course by the shaman.

    The Nicaraguan kids have poked serious holes into McKenna's whimsical idea. As it turns out, children can develop fully formed languages almost overnight! And so, with concrete data, a new possibility has arisen - languages burst upon the world from the mouths of children, and never mind the psychedelic substances.
    • by naoursla (99850)
      I saw a talk a few years ago by a researcher claiming that a "mirror system" in the brain is responsible for the development of language. The "mirror system" is a structure that activates in the same way both for performing a grasping action and for seeing a grasping action. It allows the brain to learn grasping more quickly by helping imitation. His theory was that this enabled to gestural languages which lead to spoken language.

      For some reason the wikipedia article about this has an odd name: http://en.wi [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mints (146243)
      While the term "spontaneous" is thrown around in popular accounts of Nicaraguan Sign Language, there was more going on.

      Before the 1970s, the was no deaf community in Nicaragua. Each deaf child had to make their own way in life, usually aided by a crude system of signs--called a home signing system--developed with their speaking parents. In the 1970s, however, a school for the deaf was founded and children from all over Nicaragua came to it. There was some debate over which sign language was going to be taug
      • by Aladrin (926209)
        That's the most interesting thing I've read on here so far. I don't suppose you have any links to more information on it?

        It's too bad I never get mod points any more, either... I'd probably have modded you up instead of posting this.
        • by Agripa (139780)

          That's the most interesting thing I've read on here so far. I don't suppose you have any links to more information on it?

          Chapter 7 of Genome by Matt Ridley briefly discusses what happened Nicaragua in connection with the human instinct for languages:

          Bickerton's hypothesis has received remarkable support from the study of sign language. In one case, in Nicaragua, special schools for the deaf, established for the first time in the 1980s, led to the invention, de novo, of a whole new language. The schools ta

  • by r_jensen11 (598210) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:48AM (#22317720)
    ...researchers recommend that parents read regularly to their children. Film at 11.
  • Multiple languages (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:52AM (#22317740) Homepage
    I'm a parent in a bilingual family. (Finnish & Swedish, two fundamentally different languages.) One of the more interesting things is the way my kids pick up grammar. I speak Swedish to the kids (my first language) and my wife speaks Finnish. The kids (even our younger one and a half year olds) understand both languages more or less perfectly, but they do tend to mess up grammar and sometimes words between them. Every now and then they use the grammar of one language to conjugate a word from the other. It's all pretty interesting.

    But I personally believe that the human brain does a hell of a lot more data mining than we give it credit for. There's a damn good reason why things seem clearer after a good night's sleep. The human brain is designed for massively parallel information processing, and we can't possibly handle it all in a conscious processing context. A lot happens behind the scenes. I'm guessing it's going to be quite some time still until we can fully understand the "inner workings" of the human brain.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gujo-odori (473191)
      I'm also parent in a bilingual family (English and Vietnamese, and I'm starting to introduce our kids to Japanese, my own second language), and our kids went through that phase as well, plus an extra twist or two.

      Our kids were both born in Viet Nam, but our older one learned to talk there and was initially a monolingual Vietnamese speaker, while our younger one learned to talk in the United States and was initially a monolingual English speaker, who understood some Vietnamese but could not speak it. As the
  • Rosetta Stone (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KermodeBear (738243) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:55AM (#22317766) Homepage
    This is how the Rosetta Stone software works, if anyone was ever curious. Several pictures are shown with a phrase in the foreign language - no translation at all. You have to pick the right one. It goes through permutations of the phrase with different pictures and you eventually learn what each of the words means. It's very effective, much better than the rote memorization that I had to do in school.
    • by Mateorabi (108522)
      How does it teach complex verb tenses / conjugation with pictures? I mean how does one illustrate third-person-plural-future-perfect? That was always my beef with learning other languages.

      Made harder by the fact that the most basic verbs (which tend to be taught first year) in many languages (including English) have a tendency to be the most irregular. Probably because conjugation tends to become more regular for late-arriving words in a language, after rules have been established, while the most basi
      • by naoursla (99850)
        Languages are regularized every generation. I think it is probably more a function of zipf's law. Commonly used words have more complex forms because the extra complexity is useful. Verb tense adds important information. Irregular verbs aid in disambiguation. The benefit of disambiguating words like 'be' and 'have' is greater than the disadvantage of having to remember multiple forms. Another way to think of it is that each form of 'be' is used often enough to make it worthwhile.
      • How does it teach complex verb tenses / conjugation with pictures? I mean how does one illustrate third-person-plural-future-perfect? That was always my beef with learning other languages.

        I was wondering this myself before I started Rosetta Stone classes. Here's an example (not translated for simplicity):

        They show you 4 pictures:
        (1) 2 boys standing on a table, 2 girls in the air a few inches off the table,
        (2) all 4 kids standing on the table, but knees bent, arms swung back as if to jump,
        (3) 2 boys

    • by bkr1_2k (237627)
      I agree entirely, though my fiance doesn't like it. She thinks they should start with basic concepts, rather than "words you won't use" but I've found most of the phrases (I'm learning Mandarin now) very useful in developing vocabulary as well as grammar.
    • You beat me to it. I was just going to mention Rosetta Stone. I've gone through about half of the Spanish (Spain) course already, and even poked around at the Arabic, Swahili, and Japanese courses just to see what the languages even sound like. It's surprisingly effective the way they have the courses set up.
  • by backformed (1184547) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @01:16AM (#22317870)
    This isn't proof that children acquire language by some sort of data mining process.

    When children start coming up with overregularizations like "goed" instead of "went" or "playses" in place of "plays," that kind of attempt at applying regular morphological rules to irregular items, is when you might say they are acquiring language via data mining. I.e., they hear a form used often enough that it becomes part of their knowledge about words, to the extent that that form is unconsciously applied even to make words they have certainly never heard in adult speech before.

    (Disclaimer:
    1. I will graduate this May with a B.A. in linguistics.
    2. First language acquisition is not wholly understood as of yet, but suffice it to say that it's more complicated and there are many more factors involved than the article makes it seem.
    3. Sorry if I'm misunderstanding what they mean by "data mining.")
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)
      Between the ages of about three and five my son got into the habit of preferring incorrect versions of some words. For example "spigot" instead of "biscuit" and "hostable" instead of "hospital".

      In both cases he seemed to think his version rolled of the tongue better and should be used.

      If I have a point it is that the child is to some extent making the language up as they go. As with other parts of their development they test boundaries all the time. If the language they learn is deficient in some way they w
    • by bkr1_2k (237627)
      Just to put it into perspective, I've heard both "goed" and "playses" from multiple children, including my own. I don't think there was every really any question as to whether or not children learn through "data mining", which is why so many of the comments are basically "duh... calling it a new name doesn't add anything to our knowledge of it."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd like to see them do this with a language uncommon to the children in order to control for how much language they hear at home or how advanced their usage is.
  • ...on his album "Wild and Crazy Guy" in 1978.

    Kids learn to talk by listening to their parents... When you're around him, you talk wrong. So now it's like his first day in school and he raises his hand and says, "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?"

  • The English->Arabic lanaguage path [blogspot.com] essentially learns how to translate by looking at a whole bunch of examples. Yes, the Google Algorithm sometimes screws up (the recent "Heath Ledger is dead" translation thing) but then again, so do toddlers.
  • I surely picked the wrong place ... :(

    Researchers in Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences have received a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how the brain uses highly complex statistics to learn language. [...] Assistant professor Chen Yu and Linda B. Smith, professor and chair of the department [...]
    (http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/6382.html)

    I sincerely hope we'll be seeing more and better stuff coming along from these Brain S
  • As research goes, this ranks along with the "discovery" that alcohol makes students drunk.
  • If an infant hears the word cat more in the presence of a cat than a bird, and hears the word apple more in the presence of an apple than a cat, then the association cat-word == cat-thing is going to be stonger than cat-word == bird-thing, apple-word == cat-thing.

    i.e. (A, B) => assoc(A, B)++ ---- The ONE MILLION DOLLAR formula!

    It doesn't make any difference how many words / objects or other sensory inputs are presented together - just strengthen the associations of all co-present stimuli (this is simply
  • My dissertation research introduced an open computational framework for visual perception and grounded language acquisition called Experience-Based Language Acquisition (EBLA). EBLA can "watch" a series of short videos and acquire a simple language of nouns and verbs corresponding to the objects and object-object relations in those videos. Upon acquiring this protolanguage, EBLA can perform basic scene analysis to generate descriptions of novel videos.

    In short, it stored meta information about objects and

  • Toddlers learn by datamining,
    Google uses datamining in their GMail application,
    ::Therefore, everyone who works at Google is a toddler.
  • by theonetruekeebler (60888) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @02:07PM (#22324000) Homepage Journal
    I'm perfectly happy calling it mining because at least my toddler likes to mine the stream of words I use while driving for useful nuggets to repeat repeat to his mother the next time she's driving.

    Every time a car pulls up next to us now he looks at it and says "Dear God!" And the last time his mom had to slam on brakes he giggled and said "What the fuck, huh?" And when she shrieked at him, that was just gasoline on the fire. For the rest of drive home all he could do was giggle and say "What the fuck, Mommy? Mommy? What the fuck, Mommy?"

    This is not improving my sex life.

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