Infant research shows that babies are excellent at learning patterns – even complex patterns1.
Learning Language Patterns
When learning spoken language, infants naturally acquire grammar. For example, in English infants and toddlers figure out to add an “s” to make words plural or an “ed” to make words past tense. They figure this out without being taught the rules of grammar. Young children are able to do this because our language has many patterns. Native English speakers learn when to add an ‘ing’ onto words easily without effort. However, non-native English speakers may struggle to figure out when to add an ‘ing’ onto words when learning through the rules of grammar. Learning patterns naturally in infancy is dependent on the babies hearing proper grammar, so it is important for parents to use proper grammar.
Recent research shows bilingual babies acquired just as many patterns in their first language as monolingual babies acquired in one language. In addition, the bilingual babies also learned a second language2.
Learning the Shape Bias
Another pattern that is learned during infancy is called the shape bias. The shape bias is the tendency to generalize information about objects by their shapes instead of factors such as color, texture, material, or size. Shapes of objects generally give more important information about objects’ functions than other features of the objects. Learning the shape bias results in babies learning new words at a faster pace. This results in an increase in the vocabularies of babies and toddlers. Please click here for more information on the shape bias and how to teach this concept.
1 Saffran, J. R., Aslin, R. N., & Newport, E. L. (1996). Statistical learning by 8-month-old infants. Science, 274(5294),1926–8.
2 Werker, J. F. & Byers-Heinlein, K. (2008). Bilingualism in infancy: first steps in perception and comprehension. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 144–151.