ESL 91
FALL, 2001

Students wrote these essays in class. Students were responsible for editing and revising subsequent drafts of these in class essays with minimal help from the teacher.

ESSAY TOPIC: Read the text "Language Acquisition in Humans" in your textbook Interdisciplinary English. Then use what you learned from this text, as well as your Internet research, to write a well-organized essay in which you describe your own theory of first language acquisition. You should base your theory of first language acquisition on your research, your own experience and your observations of others. As you describe your theory, be sure to support it by referring to the work of Noam Chomsky and B. F. Skinner. In addition, be sure to describe specific examples from your own experience or from your observations of children learning a first language.


Tatiana Charnaya
ESL 91
Fall, 2001

Language is an abstract system of words, meanings, and symbols for all aspects of culture. It includes speech, written characters, numerals, symbols and shapes it for us. A human language is acquired through the process of imitation.

Children raised without the influence of human adults usually have a big problem with language. There are few stages of language acquisition. At the first stage all babies sound alike. At second stage of language, babies acquit in native family. The first sounds baby says around in five-six month. The first word baby says usually in nine month. They start to speak, repeat what they hear. At the same time, parents of a child must stimulate, support, repeat the enunciation childís words. Usually parents show and name some of the subjects or acts. Usually a child know a few simple words, which he/she can easily pronounce when they are one year old. He/she can pronounce a few simple sentences when he/she is two years old.

Scientists believe that there is a time during which the baby must be exposed to language to acquire language normally. This period fasts from the age of four to the age of twelve. The linguist Noam Chomsky says that the ability to learn and use language is inborn. Human beingsare set up to learn language. In contrast, the psychologist B.F. Skinner believes that the ability to use language depends on the childrenís education. Children must be exposed and taught to use language, or they will not acquire it.

Skinnerís theory is supported by cases such as Genieís. Genie was a 13-year old girl who spent almost all her short life isolated. When at last she was free, she couldnít say a single word because she hadnít communicated with people.

So communication is one of the most important factors that helps us to develop a language. I read a story about a four year old boy who was lost in a woods in Siberia, in Russia. This boy spent four years among wolves. He forgot his native language. In another example, Russian soldier was captive by Taliban. He spent more than nine years in slavery. He became mentally sick. When American journalists stolen him, they found out that he absolutely didnít remember his native language. My example support the theory that communication and environment influence language acquisition.

A family is not the only one who teaches a baby or child native language. Children can be fluent in language if they study it every day with friends, and teachers in school. My parents gave me a basic knowledge of Russian. I could speak Russian, but I couldnít read and write. In school I was taught how to read and write. I studied Russian for 10 years in my school.

Now, my granddaughter is 20 months old. She lives in Germany. My daughter teaches her the Russian language. She reads her Russian books, speaks with her in Russian. She wants the baby to know her native language. She is sure that the baby will learn German without a problem because she lives in the language environment.

In my opinion, the process of studying a language is based on the theories of Chomsky and Skinner at the same time. We, people, are born with some brain for language, but it should be constantly taught.

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Danny Tran
ESL 91
Fall, 2001

All normal children regardless of their culture go though a series of stages in the development of spoken language. Language acquisition is the process of learning a native language. The acquisition of language is accomplished through reinforcements and punishments. B.F Skinner, a behavioral psychologist and Noam Chomsky a linguist are two men who share greatly differing views and ideas about the acquisition of language in humans. Skinnerís theory was that language must be taught to children so they could learn. On other hand, Chomskyís theory was that the human brain contains a language acquisition device (LAD), which automatically analyzed the components of speech a child hears. My theory is somewhat in between Skinnerís theory and Chomskyís theory. I believe that a childís brain contains an LAD but that the child has to be taught language to learn it.

B. F. Skinner was a psychologist. His theory was that children must be taught all aspects of language. Children learn the rules of their native language by imitating what they hear in their environment. Genieís case lends some support to Skinnerís theory. Genie was a young girl who was locked in a small closet-like room at the age of 18 months by her schizophrenic father. Her mother was blind and was also abused by the father, so she was unable to help Genie. After her father died, Genie was finally freed from the closet. She was 13 years old. Genie had been locked up from the time she was 18 months old to the age of 13. Genie was unable to produce language because she had not been exposed to language. Genie showed that children couldnít learn language without being taught.

Noam Chomsky was a linguist. His theory was that children are born with a human brain that contained a LAD. In other words language ability was inborn. Chomsky believes that children had an innate knowledge of the grammar of their native language. Children donít have to be taught the grammar of their native language. When they speak as an infant, they automatically produce utterances that are grammatical in their native language. Chomskyís studies of child language were support for his theory. According to Chomsky, children produce utterances in the correct word order without ever having been taught specifically. Chomsky showed that children have LAD in the brain.

After I reviewed both Chomskyís and Skinnerís theories, I had a theory of my own. My theory is that children do have an inborn LAD. However, the children also need to be taught to be able to learn what the language means, to pronounce the language right and to understand the language. They need to be taught language so that they can expand and use the correct grammar of the language.

I have experience and observation of my own sister growing up to support my theory. When she was about 16 months old, she had some LAD in her brain. Without being taught she was able to produce utterances and made some words on her own. For example she said mom, dad, like, no, and yes, but she couldnít say more words. My parents and I had to teach her in order for her to know what the language means and to pronounce the right way. With our help she could pronounce correctly, understand and learn more. She could put words together and make up the whole sentence. She could be able to use the language again.

I believe that some children have more LAD than others. Children have DNA from the parents, so that they get the inborn LAD from the parents. Children that have more LAD could pronounce more words and use them. The other children that donít have as much LAD still could use words but less than the other children. Children get the gene from the parents and the environment, and then they need the support of the parent to show them how to use language correctly. The children can learn easily and also they all need to be taught to be able to understand and use the language correctly.

Although how children learn to use language is not perfectly understood, most explanations involve both the observations of Chomsky and of Skinner. Children have to copy what they hear and learn to use. My theory combines both Skinnerís and Chomskyís theories. My experience supports my theory. Children contain a LAD in the brain but also have to be taught to learn the language.

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Page last updated on November 30, 2001