Can kids learn to read at a very young age without you teaching them?

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I’m surprised at and thrilled by a very interesting article in the July-August 2012 issue of American Scientist. In his article, Prof. Dominic W. Massaro claims that it is possible for children to learn reading at a very young age, without explicit instruction. According to Massaro, with the help of latest advancements in cognitive science, computer science and mobile technology, the children can be immersed in an augmented environment in which they can acquire literacy intuitively. The full text of the article, “Acquiring Literacy Naturally” is currently available at http://mambo.ucsc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/2012-07MassaroFinal2.pdf.

Some highlights that really drew my attention:

“Notwithstanding the intuitive primacy of spoken language, I propose that once an appropriate form of written text is meaningfully associated with children’s experience early in life, reading will be learned inductively with ease and with no significant negative consequences. As described by John Shea in this magazine, “there are no known populations of Homo sapiens with biologically constrained capacities for behavioral variability” (March–April 2011). I envision a physical system, called Technology Assisted Reading Acquisition (TARA), to provide the opportunity to test this hypothesis. TARA exploits recent developments in behavioral and brain science and technology, which are rapidly evolving to make natural reading acquisition possible before formal schooling begins. In one instantiation (Figure 3), TARA would automatically recognize a caregiver’s speech and display a child-appropriate written transcription.”

Technology Assisted Reading Acquisition (TARA) implemented on a digital tablet automatically recognizes an adult’s utterance using automated speech-to-text recognition. In these examples, the adult’s comments are recognized and the digital tablet displays some of the words in high definition to the child. (Photographs courtesy of the author.)

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The linguistic genius of babies: a human touch

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In her short TED talk, Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world:

Linguistic genius of babies

Linguistic genius of babies

The birth of a word: How an infant learns language

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MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language — so he wired up his house with videocameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son’s life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch “gaaaa” slowly turn into “water.” Astonishing, data-rich research with deep implications for how we learn. His TED talk is a tour de force of research in language acquisiton in children:

Deb Roy: The birth of a word

Deb Roy: The birth of a word

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