How is language learned according to Behaviorist theory of language acquisition?    

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katiep808 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Behaviorist theory of language acquisition states that language is a behavior and, consequently, is learned like any other behavior via positive and negative reinforcement. Physiologist B. F. Skinner (1904–1990), coined the term “Operant Conditioning,” meaning simply that a behavior resulting in positive consequences is likely to be repeated, while a behavior resulting in negative consequences is likely to be halted. With regard to the Behaviorist theory of language acquisition, he speaks to the “reinforcement of successive approximations,” taking operant conditioning one step further.

An example of early language development through the reinforcement of successive approximations is as follows: An infant makes sounds mimicking the sounds that he hears adults make. Eventually, he says “baba” while reaching towards his bottle, and his mother gives him his bottle. But as time goes on, “baba” becomes “baby talk” in his mother’s eyes, and he must fully pronounce “bottle” to get what he wants. Even further down the line, he must speak in full sentences to be rewarded. In this scenario, the child learns a behavior (language) through operant conditioning, and the behavior is gradually shaped over time through the reinforcement of successive approximations.

Physiologist Ole Ivar Løvaas (1927–2010) used Skinner’s theories while working with non-verbal autistic children, many of whom he successfully taught to speak.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Language acquisition according to behaviorists depends on human role models, imitation, rewards and practice. Behaviorist theory of language acquisition (Skinner) is one of four dominant language acquisition theories. The other three are innatist (Chomsky); cognitive (Piaget); and social interactionist (Vygotsky).

Behaviorist theory of language acquisition asserts that stimuli for language learning comes from the presence of humans. The rewards also come from the presence of humans. Humans who are present are imitated. Practice is with humans. Rewards are enhanced when humans, called role models, respond to language learning and acquisition attempts with praise and affection.

[For expanded discussion, see Language & Literacy Development, Mrs. Meadows, Crescent Elementary School.]


unicornlibrarian | Student
The behaviorist theory of language acquisition states that language is learned when the meaning of certain words are internalized because of the response received when the words are spoken. For example, when a child says the word "ball," and someone gives them a ball, they will come to know the object given to them as a ball. This theory of language development is a component of behavioral theory. Behavioral theory was founded by J. B. Watson and included many elements of human development. Followers of this language theory believe that children, and perhaps those learning another language, mimic the words said by people around them in an effort to receive something in return.
"The major principle of the behaviorist theory rests on the analyses of human behavior in observable stimulus-response interaction and the association between them."
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