Learning & Language Shift

Past research on child language learning has concentrated on how learning proceeds in a tiny minority of languages in industrialised and predominantly monolingual societies, namely English and a few European languages. However, many features of European languages are rare elsewhere, while other features common across the world are rare in European languages.

The European context is not representative of the conditions under which most children learn language. A more representative evidential base is required if we are to adequately categorise and explain the process of language acquisition.

Our research significantly deviates from past work. We are studying children who are learning their first language as a moving target in a context of rapid language shift. Sometimes these children may develop a new language altogether. Many live in communities where language is a crucial link to their cultural heritage and identity (e.g., Indigenous Australians), yet the rapidity with which their communities are changing, and the strong influence English exerts on their educational and social outcomes, means that they are in a state of linguistic flux.

Understanding typical language development in these poorly understood contexts, as well as attitudes to language learning in these societies, is critical to enabling professionals (teachers, speech pathologists, curriculum planners) to provide the best assistance to children. Our research will provide the base from which new tools and training can be developed, with significant implications for the speakers of these languages in relation to preschool and primary education, teacher training, resource development and educational policy.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University