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Exposure is not enough



Child language researchers have often assumed that progress in first language learning depends heavily on language exposure. For example, Hart and Risley (1995) compared children in middle class families with children in lower class families. Based on recordings made across several years in the home, they estimated that by the time the children from lower SES families entered first grade they had heard 30 million fewer words than the middle class children. Researchers and educators have argued that this ‘30 million word gap’ is a primary cause for academic failure of lower SES children in the primary grades in the United States. Researchers in second language acquisition (SLA) research have often postulated a similar linkage between exposure and attainment, both for early and simultaneous bilingual children and later second language learning. Carroll (Carroll) expresses justifiable skepticism regarding such claims regarding the effect of amount of exposure on language attainment. Despite some important differences in conceptualization of the nature of the input, I find her overall analysis compelling and important.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Brian MacWhinney, Carnegie Mellon University – Psychology, 5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA


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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
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