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

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Emma Nguyen
  • Co-Module Leader: Dr Rebecca Woods
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


Language is an incredibly complex system of knowledge. Not only are there multiple levels of representation - sounds and words and phrases and whole utterances and meanings - 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 with language.

One of the most striking things about language is that all typically-developing children learn their native language flawlessly, especially when compared to adults trying to accomplish the same task. This is true despite adults' superior cognitive skills. Children of the world seem somehow suited for language acquisition in a way that adult humans - and other animals - are not.

In this module, we will consider theoretical approaches and empirical methodologies to child language development and evaluate major empirical findings in the field. A broader aim of this module is to prepare students for conducting independent child language research, including identifying research gaps, formulating research questions and hypotheses, developing methods of data collection and analysis.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will cover topics including, but not limited to, the following:
- Theoretical approaches to child language acquisition and development
- Methods for studying children’s language acquisition and knowledge
- Linguistic developmental milestones and major empirical discoveries in the field of child language acquisition
- The biological basis for language and the link between language and cognition
- Differences in the acquisition of phonology, semantics and syntax

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
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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise2M40Abstracts written exercise: Students will write two conference-level abstracts distilling two linguistic studies reporting on child language acquisition. 1000 words or equivalent
Research proposal2A60Experimental Research Proposal: 2000 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 provide students with the opportunity to read, dissect, and present scientific research in a condensed format. Students will be able to thereby develop their writing skills as well expand their knowledge of recent empirical studies in child language acquisition.

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