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Speaking From Within: A Discussion on Our Innate Ability to Learn Languages

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Speaking From Within: A Discussion on Our Innate Ability to Learn Languages

For years since I moved to the United States after the age of nine, I've always been frustrated at the lack of improvement in my ability to speak English without a trace of foreign accent and my ability to write without any grammatical errors. It always seemed to me that learning languages is unlike learning anything else, I can logically understand the pronunciation of the a word or the rules of grammar, but for reasons unknown, I always found it hard to incorporate logical knowledge of language into the actual speaking and writing of English. I started to surf the web in attempt to find the reasons to why, even after spending more than half of my life in the U.S, I still cannot speak and write as well as people who were born or came here at a much younger age.

At first I though the answer would be something to the extend of finding a region of the brain that is specialized for the learning of languages and that region is more developed in people other than I, who are good at linguistics. However, it turned out that the answer entails more than specialized regions in the brain, while there are regions in the brain that are specific for processing languages, what I found more interesting is that there is much evidence that supports the selectivist theory, found by Noam Chomsky that the ability to learn language is innate. Here innate means that ¡°the language template is pre-organized in the neuronal structure of the brain, so that the fact of being an integral part of a given environment selects the borders of each individual neuronal structure without affecting its fine organization, which pre-exists.¡± (1) In this paper, I wish to point out evidence that supports this theory of the innateness of language, and to exam how the language template develops. In conclusion, I wish to gain a better understand of my own language learning process in light of these new findings.

One evidence that points to the innateness of language is the accuracy and speed at which humans process language and the accelerating rate at which children acquire language. ¡°¡­ the average speaker produces approximately 150 words per minute, each word chosen from somewhere between 20000 and 40000 alternatives, at error rates below .1%. The average child is already well on her way toward that remarkable level of performance by 5 years of age, with a vocabulary of more than 6000 words and productive control over almost every aspect of sound and grammar in her language.
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