Tutor profile: Cynthia Y.
What is the pin yin for 妈 (mother)?
ma in the first tone.
Explain the meaning of 山珍海味 (shan zhen hai wei), also the meaning of each individual character.
The characters mean entirely different things when taken apart, but together they represent a idiomatic expression. 山 means mountain, 珍 means previous, 海 means the ocean, 味 means taste. However, together they describe a luxurious meal.
Explain May and Werker's study on infants and language, describe its implications and why it is influential.
In this study, May and Werker assessed whether the age and vocabulary size of the infant influenced their ability to learn words in an unfamiliar language, as well as the availability of referential cues (2014). Based on past research suggesting great disparity between “click consonants” and the English language, May and Werker employed words containing these rare “click consonants” from Southern African languages to test the ability of children to associate these unfamiliar words to objects. This research is valuable in language development because children are generally exposed to a multilingual world or required to learn additional languages and previous research has suggested that children tend to develop sensitivity to sounds associated with their native language at an early age (as early as pre-natal), thus the findings in this article may provide insight to the question whether “linguistic sophistication” at different ages affects children’s abilities to learn non-native words. A total of 48 English-speaking infants were recruited for the study, amongst the 48, 24 were 14-month old infants and 24 were 20-month old infants. The study ran two experiments: experiment 1 used a modified version of the “referential Switch procedure”, which tested if age influenced the infants’ abilities to learn non-native words. Experiment 2 tested the infants’ abilities to learn foreign words using the classic Switch procedure but did not provide referential cues to pre-familiarize the infants with object-label pairings. May and Werker proposed that if the infants had learned the associations between the click consonant and the object, they would look longer if the pairing were “switched”. May and Werker also proposed that if both groups of infants failed to associate click consonant with the object at the presence of referential cues, then referential cues are necessary for learning a new language. The results showed that both younger infants with either high or low vocabulary and older infants with low vocabulary had greater success associating the click consonants with the object. Both groups also failed at learning these associations when referential cues were absent. The study successfully demonstrated that age, vocabulary level, and presence of referential cues all influence children’s ability to learn a foreign language, May and Werker’s choice of the Southern African language with click sounds facilitated their experiment as the language sounds fundamentally and almost completely different than English. However, there are some aspects the study could further investigate. Firstly, May and Werker’s study primarily concerns language learning abilities, thus it is important that the infants’ native language must be the same. The study indicated that infants from both groups “were hearing English at least 80% of the time”; thereby ignoring the disparities in hearing English that can exist between infants. This could be a problem as the sample is not homogeneous. Infants hearing more English and infants hearing less English would obviously have different levels of vocabulary, therefore it is not conclusive to present these infants with the same vocabulary test. Secondly, since the click-sounding language is very different than English, the infants may perceive these words as non-language as the study mentioned previously that younger children tended to map non-language (e.g. toy noises) onto objects. Since the infants are too young for structured speech, it is impossible to know whether the infants actually perceived this unusual sounding language as language. May and Werker’s study focuses on linguistic development in children, and has shown that it is best to learn a language at a younger age because as children develop “a more sizable lexicon”, they tend to become “more restrictive” in their ability to map words to labels. However, many people can be bilingual or even trilingual, and at times can speak those languages fluently. Therefore, an intriguing follow-up study to May and Werker’s work would be to assess whether growing up in a bilingual environment influences a child’s ability to learn additional languages. The study would use a matched pairs design to test if children growing up in a bilingual and a non-bilingual environment influences a child’s ability to learn additional languages. If children had been exposed to additional languages at an early age of language development, it may enable them to have more leniencies in mapping unfamiliar words to objects. The study would recruit two groups of children at the age of 14 months because that is the age infants are able to show differences in their understanding of foreign languages. One group would speak two languages at home, and the other group (control group) would speak only English at home. The two groups would then be required to learn additional words from the click language, and scores between the groups can be used for comparison. The main advantage of this design is that it decreases order effects. However, this design is flawed in that no group of children would be completely uniform in the amount of foreign language they may be exposed to. In conclusion, this follow-up experiment should provide insight on whether exposure to foreign language at an early age leads to greater capacity to learn additional languages.
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