Answers to Comprehension Questions:
"Language Acquisition in Humans"

© 1998-2001--Loretta F. Kasper, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved

  1. The sounds of a baby's native language first emerge during the second stage of language acquisition.

  2. The term "critical period" refers to the time when the baby must be exposed to language in order to learn it normally. The case of Genie is related to the idea of a critical period because Genie was not exposed to language during this time, and so she was not able to learn language normally, even with intensive teaching.

  3. The critical period is defined as occurring between the ages of 4 and 12 years. At the end of the critical period, the brain loses plasticity necessary for normal language acquisition.

  4. Chomsky's theory of language acquisition says that the ability to learn and use language is inborn. Human beings are set up to learn language. Chomsky's theory is supported by studies of child language that show that children produce utterances in the correct word order for their native language without being taught what that order is.

  5. B.F. Skinner believes that the ability to use language is learned not inborn. Children must be exposed to and taught to use language, or they will not acquire it. Skinner's theory is supported by cases such as Genie's.

  6. The analogy of the light switch explains language acquisition as a combination of inborn and learned behaviors and abilities. The ability, or circuitry, to learn and use language is built into the brain, just as the wiring that enables a room to be lit is built into the wall. However, unless the child is exposed to and taught language, that is the light switch is turned on, the child will not be able to produce language.

  7. The process of second language acquisition is different from that of first language acquisition in several ways. When we learn a second language, we experience interference from our first language. This interference often leads to difficulties and confusions in using the second language correctly. On the other hand, we have experience with our first language system, and we can use this experience to help us in learning our second language. We can compare and contrast the rules and patterns of our first and second language, noticing the similarities and the differences between the two.

  8. An "early bilingual" processes language in the left hemisphere, while a "later bilingual" processes it through the right hemisphere.

  9. The idea of a "bilingual brain" relates to the theory of brain plasticity and lateralization in the following ways: The brains of early bilinguals are plastic and able to learn new language patterns easily. Early bilinguals are often able to switch easily between the two language systems. However, the brains of later bilinguals have already lost plasticity, making the process of second language learning less natural and more difficult.

  10. We may explain the difficulty many people have in learning a second language through a loss of brain plasticity and right hemisphere processing of the second language.

    Posted to the Web on October 19, 2001