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SEL3438 : From Input to Output: The Blackbox of Child Language Acquisition

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Emma Nguyen
  • Co-Module Leader: Dr Rebecca Woods
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 60 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


Language is an incredibly complex system of knowledge. Not only are there multiple levels of representation – of sounds and words and phrases and whole utterances - but within a given level, even simple forms can be derived from multiple interacting pieces of knowledge. Yet as speakers of any given language, we are often blissfully unaware of how much we need to know in order to be able to communicate through language.

Nonetheless, this is precisely the knowledge children must acquire. And their task is not simple. The patterns of knowledge can be difficult to discern from the available input and, to top it off, the data children learn from is often ambiguous and full of exceptions anyway. Yet despite all this, all typically-developing children learn their native language nearly effortlessly, generalizing from noisy input in very specific ways. The degree of proficiency attained by very young children in their native language is almost never achieved by adults who are far more cognitively developed. How is this possible?

In this class, we delve into the process of language acquisition, exploring the way in which infants and very young children unconsciously uncover the rich systematic knowledge of their native language. We focus on both experimental methods and computational studies that quantitatively investigate the "how" of language acquisition.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will cover topics including, but not limited to, the following:
- Theoretical approaches to child language acquisition and development and the predictions generated from these approaches
- Computational and experimental methods for studying children’s language acquisition and knowledge
- Advance topics on linguistic developmental milestones and major empirical discoveries in the field of child language acquisition through the lens of particularly linguistic subfields.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion235:0070:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading137:0037:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study160:0060:00N/A
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
SEL8695Learning and Learnability
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures are used, primarily, to impart subject content and provide a continuous point of contact between the module teaching team and all students throughout the module. Lectures focus on growing students’ knowledge base in linguistics and introducing students to new methods and approaches to language study.

Small-group teaching sessions, also known as seminars, are used to consolidate students’ understanding of the lecture and reading materials and to develop students’ skills in making sense of linguistic data, understanding academic writing and framing language investigations.

Guided independent study is used for the preparation of seminar exercises as well as for the preparation and completion of assignments.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination602M40In-person exam to objectively test student understanding of foundational notions of learning startegies and emipirical discoveries in Child Language Acquisition.
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Research proposal2A60Experimental Research Proposal: 2500 words (or equivalent) written exercise expanding upon a chosen topic in child language acquisition and detailing a proposed experiment.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The midterm assignment will measure students' understanding of foundational concepts and empirical discoveries presented during the first half of the module. Students will thus be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the theories, sources, and interpretations of human language acquisition behavior at the individual level. Students will also be able to demonstrate their ability to apply appropriate learning strategies to sample acquisition data.

The final assignment will probe students’ understanding of critical concepts learned throughout the semester, focusing on the development of research approaches and scientific reasoning.

Reading Lists