a UC San Diego Alumni Publication


Baby Talk


You’ve probably heard that kids are amazing at learning languages. They pick up new words skillfully, and very fast. Well, guess what? There’s now a scientific challenge to that conventional wisdom.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, UC San Diego cognitive scientist Gedeon Deák and a Stanford colleague in pediatrics show that young children “actually learn new words slower than other kinds of information, even types of information that they’re less accustomed to learning, like pictorial symbols or pictograms.”

“Kids are not exceptionally good at learning these sound chunks we know as words,” Deák says. “What they’re generally pretty good at learning is a wide variety of arbitrary associations.”

Deák, who heads up the Cognitive Development Lab at UCSD, is excited by the findings not only because they question the notion of a critical period for learning a new language, but also because they support the idea of using pictograms with children who have language delays or other learning disabilities.

Pictorial symbols may be an alternative teaching approach in often noisy school settings, and they may work with pre-literate babies, too.
Inga Kiderra