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Language Acquisition Support System

Language Acquisition Support System

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As you move through your English Language studies, you'll become increasingly familiar with the theorists concerned with language acquisition and their proposed theories.

In this article, our key concern is the LASS, aka The Language Acquisition Support System. What is the LASS? What is the theory behind it? Who came up with it? These are all questions that will be answered by the time you finish reading.

LASS, female bagpiper, StudySmarterFig 1. LASS isn't just an affectionate term for a Scottish woman!

We'll also look at some Language Acquisition Support System examples and some strengths and weaknesses of the model.

On that note, let's get going!

Lass – Language Acquisition Support System

We know now that LASS stands for Language Acquisition Support System. We will use both terms throughout this article.

There can be some confusion about the LASS versus the LAD. If you aren't already aware of the term LAD, it stands for Language Acquisition Device, and is a model that Noam Chomsky proposed in the 1960s. Chomsky is one of the key theorists of the nativist theory of language acquisition.

By contrast, the LASS was proposed (also in the 60s) by Jerome Bruner. Bruner was one of the key theorists of the interactionist theory of language acquisition, and it's his work we're largely concerned with in this article. His main theory regarding child language development was the Social Interactionist Theory, of which the LASS is a crucial component.

The distinction between the LAD and the LASS can be summed up quite easily. Chomsky assumed that the LAD was a physical part of the brain responsible for language learning, whereas the LASS is all about the people that support a child's language learning.

Social Interactionist Theory acknowledges the innate (instinctive) capability of children to acquire language, but also stresses the importance of social interaction in supporting linguistic development.

Language Acquisition Support System Definition

With that little bit of background information in hand, let's move on to a language acquisition support system definition:

The LASS is the network of adults (or "more-knowledgable others") that interact with a young child and, in doing so, support that child's language development.

If you break it down, you get:

  • Language Acquisition – the process by which a child learns and develops their language and communication skills
  • Support System – the support network that aids the child in their linguistic development

Language Acquisition Support System Bruner

The LAD and the LASS are very closely linked. In this section, we'll talk a bit more about the Language Acquisition Support System by Bruner, and how it relates to Chomsky's idea of the Language Acquisition Device.

In a nutshell, Bruner agreed with Chomsky's assertions about children having an in-built or instinctive drive and ability to learn language. However, he also believed this learning could not happen in a vacuum.

Bruner built upon Chomsky's idea of the LAD by emphasizing the importance of interaction in the language acquisition process.

Bruner believed that children require social input to learn a language effectively, which can come in many forms. These forms include:

  • Parental/ caregiver input

  • Input from teachers/ other professionals in the child's life

  • Input from friends and peers

  • Input from media

  • Input from the environment

Basically, the LASS relies on the input of a more knowledgeable other.

LASS, teacher and classroom, StudySmarterFig 2. A teacher is an example of a more knowledgeable other.

Language Acquisition Support System Example

Let's delve a bit deeper into the different kinds of input that can support a child's language acquisition. In other words, let's explore some language acquisition support system examples:

Parental/Caregiver Input

There are quite a few ways in which parents and carers can support the linguistic development of the child:

  • The parents or caregivers of a child will talk to this child from infancy throughout the rest of their development.

  • Parents also tend to speak to children before birth, and unborn babies can hear sounds and language from inside the womb. This can kickstart their linguistic learning.

  • When babies and children are still very young, parents and carers may use what is called "Motherese," "Parentese," or "Child-Directed Speech."

Motherese, parentese, and child-directed speech refer to the simplified language adults use with babies. This could include simplified versions of words (e.g., "num nums" instead of "food," "dada" instead of "dad," etc.) as well as speaking more slowly and in a higher pitch.

  • Infants and young children are able to recognize, assimilate, and learn the kinds of words and sounds that adults use when talking to them and will eventually begin using them as their motor skills and cognition improve.

  • Parents and caregivers can also sing and read to their babies and young children, which can help to introduce them to more language in familiar contexts.

Teacher Input

Aside from their parents or caregivers, teachers are some of the people that have the most contact with young children:

  • As babies grow into toddlers, they might start nursery or kindergarten or go to a childminder or nanny.

  • These teachers and other professionals interact with the children similarly to the parents.

  • Experiencing a new environment (such as a nursery or preschool) will also expose the child to different kinds of language. For instance, at a nursery, children are provided with various books, songs, activities, and resources that they might not have at home. With the interaction and support from the teacher, the child will be learning new vocabulary words and linguistic constructions all the time.

Many nursery rhymes and childhood songs (think "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star") are quite well known, and many parents will sing them to their children at home. However, there may be new songs introduced to the children at nursery/ kindergarten that the parents don't know (e.g., "Sleeping Bunnies" or "Walking Through the Jungle". By learning these songs and rhymes outside of the home, the child is expanding their vocabulary and creating connections between new words and their meanings.

  • Nurseries and other childcare settings tend to be language-rich environments (e.g., having posters, books, and labels around the room). This means that the children will be exposed to lots of written language, even if they cannot yet read or write themselves.

Friends and Peers

Just as teenagers and adults pick up new language from their friends, so, do young children:

  • As infants and young children begin to interact with others their own age and make friends, they will again be introduced to different language.

  • A child might have peers that are more linguistically advanced than them and hear these peers saying unfamiliar words. By repeatedly hearing these words used in context (or by asking what they mean), the child will begin to learn their meanings and eventually gain enough confidence to use them themselves.

  • Young children often make up their own words and languages with their friends too. Even though these languages might not be standard English, they still help to improve the child's motor skills necessary for forming sounds, as well as their memory and understanding of conversational structures.

Media Input

In the modern world, technology and media are all around us. Children can improve their language skills with the help of different media:

  • You've probably been out and about before and seen a child watching or playing something on their smartphone. It's becoming increasingly common for children to be introduced to technology younger and younger.

  • While it isn't ideal for children to spend long periods watching TV shows or playing games on screens, these kinds of media can be helpful language-learning tools.

  • Children's shows usually have engaging characters, many songs, and often a lesson embedded in the storyline. This can help children acquire language and improve their grasp of different concepts.

Pinkfong is a South Korean children's educational entertainment company, yet their song "Baby Shark" (2017) has become a worldwide phenomenon known by children across the globe.

The repetition in the song and the use of familial figures (baby, mommy, daddy, grandma, grandpa) in the lyrics have appealed to children all over, and even infants that cannot yet speak can recognize the song. The actions in the song (e.g., running in place when the song says, "run away") also help children to make connections between words and their meanings.

LASS, child using ipad, StudySmarterFig 3. Children using iPads and other technology can be a good way to supplement their language learning.

Environmental Input

Children don't only learn language from people they're close to; they can also pick it up from strangers in the environment:

  • Depending on the family, it's highly likely that the infant or child will be exposed to language in their day-to-day experiences that occur outside of the home or childcare setting.

  • This might be in the form of doctors, shop assistants, serving staff, people in parks and other spaces, or conversations heard in public transport.

  • There are many different places and people that a child might come into contact with that may influence their language learning.

  • This kind of social input is likely to be less impactful than the other more consistent forms of input but will still expose the child to language being used in different situations.

Genie Case Study

A very tragic and unfortunate case of a complete lack of social interaction (a complete lack of a LASS) is that of Genie Wiley. If you haven't yet come across Genie's story in your studies, it would be worth checking out the StudySmarter article, Genie Case Study, for more information.

In a nutshell, Genie Wiley was a child who was restrained and isolated in a stimulus-free room from birth until she was 13 years old. Her family members didn't talk to her, and her father was severely abusive. He and Genie's older brother only interacted with her by barking and growling at her.

Due to these terrible circumstances of abuse and neglect, Genie received next to no social interaction or linguistic support. Therefore, she didn't acquire any language until she was discovered and removed from her parent's custody. Researchers and therapists worked with Genie extensively, and she did learn a limited vocabulary but was never able to learn grammar fully.

Language Acquisition Support System Strengths And Weaknesses

As with all linguistic theories, there are several language acquisition support system strengths and weaknesses you should be aware of. Here are some of the strengths of Bruner's LASS model:

LASS Strengths

  • It is easy to see how social interaction encourages language learning in infants and young children. Children who have grown up with close-knit social networks where they are immersed in language are more likely to develop their language and communication skills successfully.

  • Encouraging social interaction with children can also help them build bonds and relationships with friends and family members, making them more confident, supported, and well-adjusted as they grow up.

  • Input from a more-knowledgeable other is a great way to improve knowledge and skills, even if one is already proficient in a particular area. For example, a child might be good at communicating their needs or monologuing, but with input from more-knowledgable others, they will learn turn-taking and other collaborative communication structures.

LASS Weaknesses

  • The LASS doesn't fully account for children with intellectual disabilities or other additional needs. A child with additional needs might require more extensive support and input than the everyday interactions that would be enough to support a typically developing child.

  • The quality of social interaction that each individual child receives may vary a lot, yet there isn't always such a stark difference in the rate of linguistic development. Children that receive more simplistic support can still go on to develop language and communication skills to a high level.

Language Acquisition Support System - Key takeaways

  • LASS stands for Language Acquisition Support System and refers to the people that interact with an infant or child to support and encourage their language learning and development.
  • The LASS was proposed by Bruner, who agreed with Chomsky's assertion that children have an innate drive to learn language, but believed that external input was also required.
  • Chomsky's model about the instinctive drive to learn language is called the LAD, or Language Acquisition Device.
  • A LASS can come in many forms, including interaction with parents, caregivers, teachers, and other professionals; friends and peers; media; and people in the wider environment.
  • As with any linguistic theory, the LASS has its strengths and weaknesses.

Frequently Asked Questions about Language Acquisition Support System

Language acquisition is the process by which humans learn language and its intricacies. Language acquisition involves increasing ones vocabulary and understanding of grammar, pragmatics, and context in order to improve communication and expression. Language acquisition is important as it allows infants, children, and older people to communicate their needs and desires, and form relationships. 

The five stages of language acquisition are: 

  • Preproduction
  • Early Production
  • Speech Emergence
  • Intermediate Fluency
  • Advanced Fluency

Bruner says that although children have an innate drive to learn language, they also require input from the people around them. This comes in the form of interaction from parents or carers, peers and friends, and other interactions they're exposed to in their day-to-day lives.

Language acquisition support refers to any resources or methods that help an infant or child to learn language and improve their communication skills. In the context of Bruner's LASS, language acquisition support refers to parental interaction (or the interaction from other people) that supports a child's linguistic development.

Language acquisition enables children to understand different concepts in greater detail and complexity which in turn improves their knowledge about these concepts. Language acquisition also enables children to ask questions, understand the answers they are given, and read and write - all of which are important skills in learning. 

An example of language acquisition could be a baby going from babbling and cooing to forming sounds that sound almost like words, to forming simple words that they are familiar with, to growing their vocabulary and communicative skillset.

Final Language Acquisition Support System Quiz

Language Acquisition Support System Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


Who proposed the LASS?

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Jerome Bruner

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What theory of development does the LASS belong to?

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Interactionist Theory

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What is the difference between the LAD and the LASS?

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LAD refers to a child's innate mental drive to learn language, whereas the LASS refers to the network of adults that support a child's language development by interacting with them. 

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Which of these terms best fits this description: the people who are more advanced than the child and help the child to develop their language skills.

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More-knowledgeable other

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Briefly describe the Social Interactionist Theory.

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Social Interactionist Theory acknowledges the innate capability of children to acquire language, but also stresses the importance of social interaction in supporting linguistic development.

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Which model works on the assumption that the child has an innate capacity and drive to learn language?

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Show question


List three terms for the kind of language used by adults when they speak to infants and young children.

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  • Motherese
  • Parentese
  • Child-Directed Speech

Show question


Which of these is NOT an example of child-directed speech?

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"Come here now please, Eddie."

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True or false, when using child-directed speech, people tend to raise the pitch of their voice.

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How does singing and reading to a child support language development?

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Singing and reading can help to introduce the child to more language in familiar contexts, as well as improve their understanding of words and their memory.

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List three examples of places that social input might come from that improve the language development of children.

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Any from this list:

  • parents/ caregivers
  • teachers/ nannies/ childminders
  • the environment
  • friends and peers
  • media

Show question


True or false, it's helpful for a child's linguistic development that they spend time in language-rich environments. 

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Name one famous case study that illustrates the importance of a LASS.

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Genie's Case Study, which shows that the lack of a LASS can lead to the child not developing any language skills. This suggests that the LAD is not the only contributing factor to a child's linguistic development. 

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Which of these is NOT a strength of the LASS?

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Easy to experiment with and measure.

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Which theory is most commonly associated with Chomsky's work?

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Show question

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