Of all mankind’s inventions,
none was more consequential than the birth of language.
Before its creation,
each person’s knowledge was limited to what he or she experienced directly.
someone who learned something
could share it with anybody else.
In this video,
we’ll look at four things known about language learning in general,
and then listen to the story of lucky Lucy and poor Pete
to understand the importance of language in everyday life.
Our brains foundation is built through experiences early in life.
Pat Levitt from the center of the Developing Child at Harvard University
studied our brain development over the course of our life extensively.
He showed how the brain’s ability to change,
dramatically drops in the years of life,
while the amount of effort such change requires increases.
Another research showed that
at age five 90 % of a kid’s brain has been formed.
If during these years,
the child is blocked from receiving stimulating experiences,
the Language Center and other parts of the brain
are likely to remain weak for life.
We learn language socially by observing and imitating others.
Some 1,000 years ago,
German emperor Friedrich II
wanted to prove the opposite
and showed that we develop language naturally, all by ourselves.
He made his nannies raise some children.
they were allowed to feed and clean them,
but not to interact socially,
or ever speak a word.
Not one child learned to speak,
but instead, they all died.
For the same reason,
toddlers can’t learn language via tape or technology.
They need to be motivated
through a human relationship,
then, they pay attention and learn.
Our language brain growth is strongest in year one.
If we study the brains development
by the rate of new synapse formation
over the first 11 months of life,
and then the next 15 years,
we can see how much the first five years matter.
The growth in the part of the brain responsible for language
peaks between birth and age 3.
During this critical period,
children can learn a new word every 90 minutes,
and several languages simultaneously.
Our sensory pathways responsible for vision and hearing peak before,
which makes sense,
because we need to see and hear to imitate language.
Four month old infants for example,
if raised bilingual by a British mom and the Chinese dad
can already differentiate between two languages
just by observing the lip movements of their caregivers.
Higher cognitive function such as logical reasoning peaks
only once we have the words and know the symbols to make sense of our world.
Language makes our world.
Rich language skills allow us to really listen,
to speak well, to enjoy reading and master writing,
并且善于表达 享受阅读 精通写作
they can create an entire world around us.
As the German philosopher Wittgenstein said:
”the limit of my language is the limit of my world”.
Let’s take for example the word “daycare center”.
Some people think of it as a “preschool”,
the Irish call it “play school” ,
and the Germans invented the word “Kindergarten”.
Only if we know all three words can we understand what’s possible.
Now let’s listen to the story about lucky Lucy and poor Pete,
two children raised in two very different ways.
Lucy is raised by her mother.
The mother is an average native English speaker who knows around 20,000 different words.
Pete’s parents hire a nice nanny from a foreign country.
Instead of speaking in her native language,
the nanny is told to talk to Peter only in English.
While her everyday English seems okay,
she actually knows only around 5,000 words.
one fourth of what Anne（Lucy）’s mom knows.
Year one is when the language brain is developing the strongest.
if Lucy is awake
half of the time her mom speaks,
she will hear around 10,000 words per day
and maybe 2500 being directed at her.
Directed language is what matters.
Whenever her mom connects a word with an actual experience,
Lucy learns its meaning.
Peter hears English only when the nanny directly speaks to him,
around 1,000 words a day.
But not only is quantity lower,
but also the quality.
As the nanny is not fluent,
there is a chance that many words come across broken.
At their first birthday
both kids can say:”mama” and”papa”.
What we don’t see is that Lucy actually already knows many many words
even though she can’t say them.
But Pete’s language universe is more limited.
When Lucy and her mom look at picture books,
her mom points out what they see:
a little monkey is also a gorilla, an ape,
a clever animal which uses tools, climbs trees
and lives with his mama and papa
in the rainforests of Africa.
When Pete looks at a picture book,
his learning is limited by the language of the nanny.
The same monkey is just cute and eats bananas.
he’s given a language app,
but as Pete lacks the foundation he doesn’t understand a word.
it’s just a bunch of new sounds strangely connected to colorful characters.
On their second birthday,
Lucy knows already well over 200 words,
the amount where children start to learn rules
and apply grammar.
Pete knows less.
Sometimes he gets frustrated
because he can’t express himself.
Lucy likes to go with her mom into the park.
Sometimes they watch the old men play chess.
She doesn’t understand the game,
but knows that there are pawns, rooks, knights,
但她知道里面有兵 车 骑士
a queen and a king, a bishop and a horse.
还有女王 国王 主教和马
One day she will learn the rules.
It will be easy,
because she sees each figure clearly.
Her understanding of their special skills is obvious.
For a lack of language,
Pete sees just a big checkered board
and some wooden figures which all look quite the same:
pawns, knights, bishops.
to understand the rules later will be hard for Pete.
All figures look so similar.
how could they do different things?
At their third birthday,
both can say their own name
and form sentences.
Lucy’s vocabulary now holds 1500 words.
Pete’s got 500 to make sense of this world.
In year 4 they enter kindergarten.
When Pete stands in front of the big shelf,
he sees different wooden blocks, the ball,
some old toy, a horse and the yellow digger.
When Lucy stands in front of the same shelf,
she sees circles, triangles, squares,
却能看到圆 三角形 正方形
a basketball, the red pinwheel,
the beige rocking horse
and the carton box of the lego technic digger.
Lucy understands what others are talking about
and often takes the lead by suggesting a new idea.
Pete often doesn’t understand what she means.
If the group discusses something for longer,
he zones out,
because he has trouble following the conversation.
By the end of the year Lucy knows 3,500 words,
where Pete only knows 1000 words.
Lucy now forms more complicated sentences
in perfect grammar.
In the evening her mom reads bedtime stories to her
Words she’s missing,
she learns out of context.
As a native speaker,
the mom can raise and lower her voice,
making the stories exciting.
Fairy tales become alive in her headtales
and Lucy learns to imagine and to think creatively.
Pete still speaks in more simple sentences
and his grammar is not perfect.
When his nanny reads to him,
the voice is more monotone.
It’s more boring
and paying attention is more difficult.
Words he’s missing, often remain missing.
By the end of the year Lucy knows 6,000
and Pete knows 2,000 words.
To understand why the actual difference in language abilities
between the two is even larger than it seems,
let’s imagine that words are nothing
but tools that help us
encode the world, form thoughts, structure ideas
帮助我们编译世界 形成见解 构建思想
and then communicate with others.
With 6,000 words compared to 2,000 words
Lucy’s toolbox is now three times the size.
Lucy has a huge head start as she
is entering elementary school.
Einstein by the way,
as a child seldom spoke
one interesting anecdote goes like this:
As he was a late talker and hardly spoke at the age of 7
his parents were worried
and tried many things to get him to speak.
At one point they were afraid that he had learning disabilities.
At last, at the dinner table one night,
he broke his silence to say:
“the soup is too hot!”
Greatly relieved his parents asked
why he had never said a word before?
The young genius replied:
“Because up until now, everything was in order.”.
What are your thoughts about language learning?
Can someone like Pete still catch up later in life
or maybe find other good ways to express himself?
Maybe our point of view is too narrow
and Pete and Lucy actually balance each other out
with the different skills they have?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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Of all mankind’s inventions,