I absolutely love TED Talks. My first TED Talk was “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” by Sir Ken Robinson, and it blew my mind, opened my eyes, and completely changed my approach to education. If you have not seen this before, do yourself a favour and watch it now:
Patricia Kuhl is a Professor at the University of Washington, and conducts research on the way that babies, infants, and young children learn language. In this TED Talk, Professor Kuhl discusses (what I am referring to as) the “magic period” in language development, between 6-8 months and 10-12 months of age. During this time, babies are collecting data and statistics on the different speech sounds they are hearing to determine which language they are going to learn. By the 10-12 month period, the baby has selected its language. Over a two-month period, groups of American babies were exposed to 12 sessions of a Mandarin native speaker talking to them, singing, reading stories and playing with them. These babies were found to collect statistics on both Mandarin and English, which is setting them up (not ensuring they would be, just setting them up) to be bilingual.
In a different part of the study, instead of using actual people they tried the same experiment using ICT, such as computer screens and televisions, but this time no learning whatsoever occurred…and I gotta say I was not expecting that…
The result? For a baby to collect data and determine the language it will speak, it needs an actual human to speak to and interact with it. Just plopping your baby down in front of a Baby Einstein DVD or whatever is not going to cut it. This was all particularly interesting to me as one of my first jobs in Japan back in (here we go…) 1993 was teaching English to babies.
The conclusion? ICT is a wonderful thing, but no matter the advancements made it seems that we humans will always have a job in teaching language.