Top 10 Language Acquisition Videos

The field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) in Linguistics has only been around for about 90 years, which makes it a newborn baby compared to “more traditional” areas of science and psychology. Though it’s a relatively new player on the scientific school yard, SLA has already garnered mountains of research, insights into learning, and cunning theories that unravel some of the mysteries of language. Today, we present our top picks for most interesting and stimulating videos on SLA and Language Learning.

1) Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity
Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of “social technology” that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.

2) Rajesh Rao: A Rosetta Stone for the Indus script
Rajesh Rao is fascinated by “the mother of all crossword puzzles:” how to decipher the 4000 year old Indus script. At TED 2011 he tells how he is enlisting modern computational techniques to read the Indus language, the key piece to understanding this ancient civilization.

3) The University of Texas at Austin — Foreign Language Teaching Methods
Intended to be part of a series for teacher trainees preparing to be instructors of foreign languages, this website offers practical tips and advice for teachers, but the modules should also be read by serious language learners as well.

4) Steven Pinker — Language as a Window into Human Nature
When people convers, they follow specific interaction patterns, such as waiting for a turn to speak or clarifying a point when someone seems confused. Although some of these interaction patterns are formed by culture, Dr. Pinker suggests in this video that language reveals true human intentions.

5) Susan Savage-Rumbaugh on apes
Savage-Rumbaugh’s work with bonobo apes, which can understand spoken language and learn tasks by watching, forces the audience to rethink how much of what a species can do is determined by biology — and how much by cultural exposure.

6) Jay Walker on the World’s English mania
Jay Walker explains why two billion people around the world are trying to learn English. He shares photos and spine-tingling audio of Chinese students rehearsing English — “the world’s second language” — by the thousands.

7) Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies
At TEDxRainier, Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.

8 ) Erin McKean redefines the dictionary
Is the beloved paper dictionary doomed to extinction? In this infectiously exuberant talk, leading lexicographer Erin McKean – CEO and co-founder of new online dictionary Wordnik – looks at the many ways today’s print dictionary is poised for transformation.

9) Murray Gell-Mann on the ancestor of language
After speaking at TED2007 on elegance in physics, the amazing Murray Gell-Mann gives a quick overview of another passionate interest: finding the common ancestry of our modern languages.

10) Stephen D Krashen Online
Perhaps one of the most studied figures in second language learning is Dr. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of the University of Southern California and author of the controversial Input Hypothesis. This spartan website won’t get any awards for graphic design and there actually are not videos here, but it does offer Dr. Krashen’s books and publications for free.

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There are some brilliant talks here, but apart from Krashen I doubt many of these would make it into a primary reading list for an MA in Linguistics or TESOL which is where much in SLA is located. Krashen can be watched on You Tube including a recent 2011 plenary some of the Keynotes on might reasonably be expected to appear in a SLA top 10 e.g. David Nunan or Keith Johnson?