How do children learn to talk?
Our main goal is to better understand how children learn language; a process about which, strange as it may seem, very little is known. What do young children know about language, and in particular about their native language? How do they detect words in speech? In written text, words are separated by spaces, but in speech, most words are joined together. How do children learn new words? How do they store these words in their mental lexicon?
How do they learn the plural forms of words? How do they learn that in a sentence like: 'He sees him', that the word him doesn't refer to he? How and when do they know that 'He see him' isn't correct? How do children learn that 'the dog sees the cat' doesn't mean the same as 'the cat sees the dog'?
Language is the most complex communication system known to man, but children learn it before they can tie their shoelaces. Our research is designed to discover how they achieve this. We study what children say, what they understand, and how they learn from the sights, sounds and smells of the world around them.
We study what changes in the brain during development, how children learn very different languages in very different communities across the world, and why some children are so much quicker to learn to speak than others.
The implications of our work are also wide ranging; the more we know about language, the better our understanding of the brain, of how to build machines that can communicate with us, and most importantly, of how to help children who struggle to speak, listen, read and write.