In order to acquire morphosyntactic structures, the input children receive is crucial (Tomasello, 2000). The frequency with which structures are encountered the structures has to be sufficient to allow entrenchment, categorizing and schematizing (Tomasello, 2003). Apart from that, relevant linguistic structures and cues must be presented such that children can perceive and process them. In experiments with adult learners, Taraban (2004) demonstrated that learners can make more efficient use of syntactic cues to gender-like subclasses when the cuees are presented in a grouped fashion as compared to a random fashion. Arguably, grouping directs the learners’ attention to the cues.
We hypothesize that children´s books and songs can be effective instruments in fostering the acquisition of relevant morphosyntactic structures. After all, the texts are repeated often within a short period of time (e.g. the song’s chorus) and over longer distances (by singing or reading everyday) (see also Frieg et al. 2014). Therefore, we designed the Litkey picture books, which were designed to support the children in acquiring relevant grammatical structures (including the gender and case system, subjunctives and past tense). The books’ texts present these structures in a grouped or otherwise optimized fashion (Belke & Belke, 2006). To assess whether the children can pick up on these structures and cues more easily in the Litkey books and songs than in other children’s books and songs, we carried out an intervention study on the acquisition of the German gender case system (von Lehmden et al., in prep.).
To this end, we trained L1- and L2-learners between the ages of 41 to 71 months, whom we allocated to one of three groups:
the intervention group who received training with our custom-made material, namely the Litkey books designed to foster nominal inflection abilities, and songs from our songbook (Kauffeldt et al., 2014) that also dealt with nominal inflection,
a control group who received training with picture books and songs that covered similar contents as the books and songs used in the first group but did not feature an optimized presentation of relevant morphosyntactic structures, and
a second control group who received no training.
In order to assess the children’s performance in processing German gender and case we designed a custom-made test battery, which we administered individually pre (T1) and post (T2) intervention as well as six weeks after the training (T3). Our results show that compared to the control group with no training, the performance of the intervention group trained with the Litkey material improved significantly during the training period. The control group with less specific training improved overall, too, but compared to the control group with no training their increase in performance was not significant.
von Lehmden, F., Müller-Brauers, C. & Belke, E. (in prep.). Training the acquisition of German gender and case with specially designed children´s books and songs.
Belke, E. & Belke, G. (2006). Das Sprachspiel als Grundlage institutioneller Sprachvermittlung. Ein psycholinguistisch fundiertes Konzept für den Zweitspracherwerb. In: Becker, T. & Peschel, C. (Hrsg.). Gesteuerter und ungesteuerter Grammatikerwerb (174-200). Schneider Hohengehren.
Frieg, H., Belke, E., Belke, G., Hoffman, R., Bebout, J., Kauffeldt, L. & Kirschke, C., (2014). Dschungeltanz und Monsterboogie. Lieder zur systematischen Sprachvermittlung im Vor- und Grundschulalter. Schneider Hohengehren.
Kauffeldt, L., Kirschke, C., Bebout, J., Frieg, H., Belke, E., Hoffmann, R. & Belke, G. (2014). Dschungeltanz und Monsterboogie. Singen und Spielen mit Sprache. Schneider Hohengehren.
Tomasello, M. (2000). The item-based nature of children’s early syntactic development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 156-163.
Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a Language. A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Harvard University Press.