First Language Acquisition Development Theories: Nature vs. Nurture

First Language – acquired or learned LLanir

How do children learn to speak? Behavioural theory assumes that children imitate what they hear, and thanks to continuous, positive reinforcement, children learn language through conditioning and habit formation. Behaviourist theorists such as Skinner also claim that all errors during first language acquisition are due to ‘bad habit formation,’ which, in due course, children correct as they hear and imitate accurate speech. In contrast to behaviourists,  ‘nativists,’ like Chomsky, believe that human beings are born with an innate capacity for language development.

Deliberations continue between linguists regarding the importance of ‘nature’ over ‘nurture’ in acquisition of language.

Language Acquisition as a Result of Nurture

Behaviourists propose that a child’s environment is the most important factor in first language acquisition, and if a child is exposed to ‘rich language,’ then ‘good habit formation,’ and proper language development will occur. It is possible that first language acquisition includes speech imitation, but:

  • Children do not imitate everything they hear; they appear to be very selective and only reproduce unassimilated language chunks. Therefore, their replications seem to be controlled by an internal language-monitoring process.
  • Children learn the basic rules of language at around the age of five; the behaviourist theory cannot account for the speed that first language is acquired.
  • Children say things that are not adult imitations; in particular they use inflectional overgeneralisations such as ‘goed,’ ‘putted,’ ‘mouses,’ and ‘sheeps.’
  • Children produce language structures that do not exist; you often hear, “Where I am?” instead of “Where am I?”
  • Children that acquire language from habit formation seem to memorize certain structures prematurely. These phrases become lodged in their minds as unassimilated chunks of information that they cannot incorporate into their own verbal expressions.
  • Children produce many more sound-combinations than they hear, and understand many more than they can produce.
  • Children are exposed to language performance and not to language competence. Often they are exposed to “debilitated” language, yet, they manage to extract the language rules from these utterances and speak correctly.

Click to Read Page Two: We Are Wired to Acquire Language

© Copyright 2011 Lesley Lanir, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science
Decoded Everything is a non-profit corporation, dependent on donations from readers like you. Donate now! Your support keeps the great information coming!

Donation Information

I would like to make a donation in the amount of:


I would like this donation to automatically repeat each month

Tribute Gift

Check here to donate in honor or memory of someone

Donor Information

First Name:
Last Name:
Please do not display my name publicly. I would like to remain anonymous


  1. says

    interesting article. I’m presently doing an extensive research on this topic and i find your information very valuable.

  2. Mabayomije says

    The write up is good in fact it gives excellents answer to my research work from unilag nigeria. Thanks

  3. Albino Mabuong Majok says

    Your article is very good indeed. Iam Linguists student at University of Bahr El Ghazal Wau, South Sudan and iam writing assignment about this issues.

    Thanks a lot

  4. ali says

    thanks for your useful info in this article
    i am linguistics student and i am writing a book about this issue so if you have any sources i would be more than glad to get your help
    if you don’t mind i want to use some part of your article
    thanks again

  5. Lesley LanirLesley Lanir says

    Doreen, thank you for taking the time to read my article and for your comment. Wishing you all the best with your research paper.
    Best regards Lesley Lanir

  6. Doreen Vanselous says

    I think your article is excellent. I am currently working on a research paper for school and I think your article is informative and well written.

    Thanks, Doreen Vanselous

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *