Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The birth of a word

If you have or know a child under the age of three, you must watch this video.

Coming out of the Media Lab at MIT this is an astounding study of how children learn words- what the role of the caregiver and context is, and how we can visualize that information. As a parent and early childhood researcher, this blew my mind. Since Sophie spoke her first word, I've been keeping a record of each word that has come after and the approximate date of its acquisition. Call me obsessive, but like I tell Jude, "It's data!" How else would I know that what was "ta-too" in September last year finally evolved into "crackers" two weeks ago. But this study takes that obsessiveness to a whole other level, with 140 000 hours of audio and video data. The visualization of the data is stunning but more importantly, what Deb Roy presents in this video barely scrapes the surface of what the study can potentially tell us about children's vocabulary acquisition and what we can do to support their learning. There's still so much we don't know about how children pick words up- learning how to speak is a natural and instinctual process but it is also one that is profoundly complex and mysterious.

I'll let the video speak for itself. Really, watch it, and feel yourself tingle when you hear how "gaa gaa" evolves into "water".

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