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Fast Mapping: Carey's & Bartlett's Study and the Relation to Extended Mapping

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  • 0:01 Language Acquisition
  • 1:12 Fast Mapping
  • 2:46 Extended Mapping
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Have you ever noticed how quickly children learn new vocabulary words? In a matter of a few years, a child can learn thousands of new words. In this lesson, we'll look at the way vocabulary is acquired, including fast and extended mapping.

Language Acquisition

Jose loves to talk. He's only three years old, but he babbles on all the time. Whenever someone is in the room with him, he talks to that person. And if he's alone, Jose will talk to himself. He just loves to talk.

When he was a baby, Jose couldn't really talk. He might make noise or say nonsense words, but he wasn't really communicating. As he's grown, Jose has gotten good at making his point. He can speak in short sentences, consisting of a few words put together. And, much to his mother's surprise, he is learning new words every day.

Vocabulary is a key part of language acquisition. As a child grows, they understand and use more and more words. This happens at a torrid rate. It's not unusual for children to add several words to their vocabulary every single day!

How exactly do children learn new vocabulary? And how are they able to incorporate their new vocabulary so quickly? Let's look closer at two ways that children learn new words: fast mapping and extended mapping.

Fast Mapping

Have you ever said something that you shouldn't have in front of a toddler? It can really get you in trouble because saying a bad word just once can lead to the child repeating that word, often at the most inopportune moment!

Fast mapping is the idea that children can learn a word based on a single exposure. They are 'fast' at picking the word up and figuring out how to use it. In fact, psychologists Susan Carey and Elsa Bartlett, who pioneered research on fast mapping in the 1970s and 1980s, demonstrated that children can learn a word and its meaning based on a single exposure to the word. It's like they hear it once and store it somewhere forever.

Jose's mom has noticed this in him. The other day, she told her husband that the picture on their wall was tilted to one side. Jose overheard her, and now every time he goes by the picture, he points to it and says, 'It's tilted!'

Think of the brain like a big storage facility. When you have a new piece of information, it has to go in the right drawer in the right filing cabinet in the right room of the facility. There's so much there that it's hard to navigate. And if you file something away but forget where you put it, you won't be able to get it again later.

That's why fast mapping is so incredible. It's like the toddler is learning and storing the new word really quickly in their brain, but also like he's creating a map of where that word is so that he can retrieve it and use it later.

Extended Mapping

But if fast mapping is so accurate, how come we don't all remember every word we ever heard? And why do you sometimes have to repeat a word over and over for a child to really get it? For example, Jose's mom said that the picture in their hallway was tilted to the side. Jose immediately knew that the word 'tilted' had something to do with the picture and with the picture's position, because his father straightened the picture out when his mother mentioned it.

The next week, Jose noticed that the picture had fallen down off its hook and was lying on the floor. He told his mom that the picture was tilted. He knew that the picture wasn't the way it was supposed to be, and his memory said that 'tilted' meant that it wasn't in the correct position.

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