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Education Science

Toddlers May Learn Language By Data Mining 213

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 Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:54AM (#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 nguy ( 1207026 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @01:28AM (#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 Hyperspite ( 980252 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:39AM (#22318764)
    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:Interesting (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:44AM (#22318784)
    You should probably tell her it's a fungi and not a plant. Shouldn't lie to your kids.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Informative)

    by SillyWilly ( 692755 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:50AM (#22318794) Homepage
    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 []" 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 sim60 ( 967365 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:11AM (#22318872)

    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, giggling, 'aaaaah', 'oooo', 'oh', 'eh', etc.

    The fist consonant-vowel sound my son made was 'boo', followed by 'baa', then 'waa'.

    Most euro languages have the same root, and particularly fundamental words like mother change very little. Non-European languages have different sounds for 'mother', infant-speak analogues include 'mu(-mu)' and 'ha(-ha)', at least.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll