Learning Languages in Informal Environments: Some Cognitive Considerations

Kiel Christianson, Sarah‐Elizabeth Deshaies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Prior to a certain age – let us say the age when formal education begins – all language learning is “informal.” Infants and young children are remarkably and consistently adept at learning (or acquiring) language under the informal conditions typically found in early childhood. During this same time, cognitive development is also taking place. A conundrum arises, then, as to why, when cognitive capacities fully mature, language‐learning capacities decline, in both formal and, perhaps, informal contexts. This chapter begins with a summary of theories of child language acquisition, including nativist, constructivist, and social interactionist theories. We then explore interfaces between language and cognition, along with the developmental trajectories of each, followed by divergences between cognitive and language‐learning capacities as children mature into adulthood. We discuss domain‐general vs. domain‐specific views of language learning, characteristics, and limitations of statistical learning, implicit vs. explicit memory, language learning in “noisy” environments (i.e. most informal contexts), the so‐called “bilingual advantage” in executive function, and the implications of these topics for future examinations of informal language learning.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Handbook of Informal Language Learning
EditorsMark Dressman, Randall William Sadler
ISBN (Electronic)9781119472384
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • informal language learning
  • second language acquisition
  • adult language learning
  • cognition
  • child language acquisition


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