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Research links grammar learning to pattern recognition

New research shows children who are better at recognising patterns are better at learning grammar, challenging traditional theories of language learning.

The researchers tested just under 70 children, aged between 6 and 8, on grammar and pattern recognition. The team found those kids who recognised more patterns had more advanced grammar skills. The results were published in the journal Child Development.

One researcher said this counters traditional notions that grammar can’t be learnt.

“For a long time, people thought of grammar as some sort of special cognitive system – like a box in our brain that we are born with,” explained associate professor Evan Kidd, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, the study’s co-author. “But our study shows that language proficiency is associated with learning, which helps to explain why some people pick it up faster than others.”

Associate professor Joanne Arciuli, University of Sydney psycholinguist and another co-author, said these findings could help inform learning strategies for those who struggle to learn grammar. It could even help those with dyslexia and autism, Arciuli said.

“It helps to know what happens with typically developing children when it comes to understanding children who have an atypical pattern of development,” she explained. “For example, children with dyslexia or autism spectrum disorders. That’s something we’ll follow up. But our hypothesis would be that children who are having difficulty comprehending grammatical structures might have an underlying problem with this sort of implicit pattern detection.”

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