Experiential Learning about Language Development by Engaging with Community Parents

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Henny Yeung, Department of Linguistics

Project team: Elise K. McClay, research assistant

Henny Yeung

Timeframe: April 2018 to March 2019

Funding: $6000

Course addressed: LING 350 – First Language Acquisition

Final report: View Henny Yeung's final report

Description: The discipline of linguistics is often a heavily theoretical one, requiring students to comprehend and employ abstract concepts in the analysis of texts and speech. However, decades of research have worked towards strengthening the links between linguistic theory and everyday human experiences of language; in the field of child language acquisition, these practically-grounded theories help to explain children's behaviours as they learn languages. For the target course, our goals are to help students link theoretical linguistic concepts learned in class to practical, observable realities faced by parents when raising children.

Within the scope of this particular project, we have three principal aims. First, how does engaging with parents and children impact students’ attitudes towards, and shape their assumption and knowledge of, first language acquisition. Second, does experiential learning affect students’ grasp of the material by a) increasing their motivation for learning the material, or by b) giving them hands-on experiences that reinforce concepts learned in class? Third, what is the feasibility of involving a community partner in undergraduate education, and what pitfalls and highlights exist in establishing such partnerships.

Elise McClay

Questions addressed:

  • Does the course material relate directly to folk ideas about parenthood, and students’ interactions with parents?
  • Does experiencing a "real-world" application of the course material effect students' evaluation of the material's relevance?
  • Does experiencing a "real-world" application of the course material effect students' learning?
  • Does the community itself benefit from experiential learning opportunities that bring undergraduates into host organizations, like museums?
  • Are such experiential learning activities easily feasible?  What sorts of organizational capacities are needed? What kinds of support do students need in order to interact profitably with parents and children?  How did the community partner feel about the project?

Knowledge sharing: Other professors teach LING 350 as well (Ashley Farris-Trimble taught a section in Winter 2019). We have helped her plan and implement this exercise in that class, and it went off quite successfully. We will also do this in future offerings of this course (next offered Fall 2019), and will plan to contribute our materials to colleagues at UBC, who also have some connections to Science World, and of course share our materials with our partners at Science World itself. 

We presented a poster at the Department of Linguistics’s end-of-term poster session, informing our colleagues of the work that we’ve done and encouraging others to try similar activities. We’d also be happy to present at any events organized by the ISTLD. We are also considering submitting this work as a publication in a teaching journal.

Keywords:  Experiential learning, linguistics, language, research, outreach, child language acquisition