Indiana University researchers are studying a ground-breaking theory
that young children are able to learn large groups of words rapidly by

Their theory, which they have explored with 12- and 14-month-olds,
takes a radically different approach to the accepted view that young
children learn words one at a time — something they do remarkably well
by the age of 2 but not so well before that.

Data mining, usually computer-assisted, involves analyzing and
sorting through massive amounts of raw data to find relationships,
correlations and ultimately useful information. It often is used and
thought of in a business context or used by financial analysts, and
more recently, a wide range of research fields, such as biology and
chemistry. IU cognitive science experts Linda Smith and Chen Yu are
investigating whether the human brain accumulates large amounts of data
minute by minute, day by day, and handles this data processing
automatically. They are studying whether this phenomenon contributes to
a "system" approach to language learning that helps explain the ease by
which 2- and 3-year-olds can learn one word at a time.

"This new discovery changes completely how we understand children’s word learning," Smith said. "It’s very exciting."

Smith, chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
at IU Bloomington, and Yu, assistant professor in the department,
recently received a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of
Health to fund this research for five years. Here are some recent

*In one of their studies, published in the journal Cognition, Yu and
Smith attempted to teach 28 12- to 14-month-olds six words by showing
them two objects at a time on a computer monitor while two pre-recorded
words were read to them. No information was given regarding which word
went with which image. After viewing various combinations of words and
images, however, the children were surprisingly successful at figuring
out which word went with which picture.

*In the adult version of the study, which used the same eye-tracking
technology used in the Cognition study, adults were taught 18 words in
just six minutes. Instead of viewing two images at a time, they
simultaneously were shown anywhere from three to four, while hearing
the same number of words. The adults, like the children, learned
significantly more than would be expected by chance. Many of the adult
subjects indicated they were certain they had learned nothing and were
"amazed" by their success. Yu and Smith wrote in the journal
Psychological Science, "This suggests that cross-situational learning
may go forward non-strategically and automatically, steadily building a
reliable lexicon."

Yu and Smith say it’s possible that the more words tots hear, and
the more information available for any individual word, the better
their brains can begin simultaneously ruling out and putting together
word-object pairings, thus learning what’s what.

Yu, who has a doctorate in computer science and writes much of the
software programming for their studies, said that if they can identify
key factors involved in this form of learning and how it can be
manipulated, they might be able to make learning languages easier,
through training DVDs and other means, for children and adults. The
learning mechanisms used by the children to learn words also could be
used to further machine learning.

Via Science Daily