Language skills strongly associated with pattern recognition
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Study: Pattern learning underlies language development

Child and blackboard

New research shows how a child’s grasp of language is learned, while also being ‘inextricably’ linked to his or her ability to recognise patterns.

The study, produced by researchers from the University of Sydney and from Australian National University (ANU), found children who were better at identifying non-verbal patterns also tended to have a batter knowledge of grammar.

The researchers also used controls in order to take intelligence and memory into account, and still pattern recognition was strongly associated with language development.

This is of interest as the question of how some children learn faster than others has been hotly debated for centuries.

Evan Kidd is Associate Professor at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. He says the findings counter traditional theories of that aptitude for grammar in language is innate, not learnt.

“For a long time people thought of grammar as some sort of special cognitive system, like a box in our brain that we are born with, but our study shows that language proficiency is associated with learning – which helps to explain why some people pick it up faster than others,” said Professor Kidd.

“These findings are exciting because in the long-term they could help us develop strategies to assist children who may not be typically developing for their age.”

The study included a sample of 68 children aged six to eight years, assessing them with two separate tests. One test evaluated grammatical knowledge while the other was a visual pattern learning task.

“The study tells us that we have a whole lot of little statisticians running around,” said Associate Professor Joanne Arciuli, co-author of the study and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.

“Unbeknownst to children themselves their brains are constantly computing these patterns or statistics – for example which words co-occur regularly, which words follow others, and different contexts in which words are used.”

As a result of the study, the Australian Research Council has provided funding for a further three-year study to be undertaken in order to investigate the underlying cognitive mechanisms of language development in children.

The findings are published in the journal, Child Development.


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