Dorothy Bishop (United Kingdom)
Why do some children find language so hard to learn?

Brief Biography

Dorothy Bishop is Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford. She is funded by the Wellcome Trust on a Principal Research Fellowship and heads a programme of research into children’s communication impairments.
Dorothy's interest in cognitive disorders was stimulated when she studied Experimental Psychology at Oxford University in the early 1970s, and she went on to train as a clinical psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London.
She was fortunate in receiving long-term research funding, first from the Medical Research Council and subsequently from the Wellcome Trust, and this allowed her to adopt an unusually broad approach to the study of children's language disorders. Dorothy has authored two books and edited four others, and published over 200 papers in scientific journals. She has developed widely-used assessments of children’s language, including the Test for Reception of Grammar, and the Children’s Communication Checklist.
Dorothy is a Fellow of Royal Society, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and a Fellow of the British Academy, and has Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Newcastle upon Tyne, Western Australia and Lund, Sweden. She holds a supernumerary fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford.

Why do some children find language so hard to learn?

Theoretical accounts of children’s language difficulties have been polarised between those that postulate auditory processing deficits, and those that focus on poor grammatical competence. I will discuss evidence from a study that used computerised training to look at learning in children with unexplained language difficulties. We contrasted learning of new vocabulary vs. learning to respond to simple reversible sentences that included a spatial preposition (e.g., “the duck is above the ball”). Our results indicated that children’s comprehension problems are not explicable in terms of auditory processing problems. Nor did children seem to lack grammatical knowledge: their problems on the prepositions task reflected performance rather than competence limitations. The overall pattern of results agreed well with the hypothesis that there is a problem with procedural learning in children with specific language impairment. Poor sentence comprehension arises when the child has to hold material in memory while translating a sequence of words into meaning. Declarative learning – which is involved in learning associations between sounds and meanings – is relatively spared. Implications of these findings for therapy will be discussed.

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European CPLOL Congress 8-9 May 2015 Florence Italy
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