First Language Acquisition

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
27 May 2020


Requisites for this module
LG115 or LG111 or LG116 or LG212 or LG215



Key module for


Module description

This module looks at how typically developing children learn to perceive and produce words, and combine words together to form sentences. This module will address influential models of first language acquisition and discuss the respective role of children's input, children's general cognitive abilities and children's innate predispositions for language acquisition. Based on this overview, we will analyse real samples of preschool children's speech. The focus will be on monolingual children acquiring English word and sentence structure but there may be reference to acquisition in other languages where relevant.

Module aims

This course aims to:
1. Provide students with an introduction to contemporary issues in the study of the acquisition of word and sentence structure, including phonotactics, word order, complex sentences, and questions
2. Question and challenge major theories of language acquisition
3. Demonstrate the importance of research in language acquisition to larger questions of human abilities and development
4. Promote the acquisition of ‘transferable skills’ (e.g., data literacy, computational skills, analytical reasoning, etc.), which will be useful both inside and outside of academic contexts.

Module learning outcomes

On completion of the module, students will be able to:
1. understand the predictable ways in which phonology and syntax are acquired in normally developing, monolingual children
2. describe commonly used empirical methods in language acquisition research
3. discuss the core assumptions of theoretical models of language acquisition
4. describe and analyse aspects of the word and sentence production in preschool children’s speech, using data available in the CHILDES database
5. critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of research into preschool children's acquisition of their first language

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

This course consists of 10 weekly 2-hour lectures. Students are expected to attend regularly, and to actively contribute to class discussions. Reading will be expected in advance of lectures.


  • O'Grady, William D. (1997) Syntactic Development, Chicago: University of Chicago.
  • Johnson, Wyn; Reimers, Paula Mami. (2010) Patterns in Child Phonology, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Data analysis assignments (5 total)    25% 
Coursework   Essay   09/04/2021  50% 
Practical   Oral Presentation    25% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Laurel Lawyer, email: l.lawyer@essex.ac.uk.
Dr. Laurel Lawyer
Dr Laurel Lawyer, office: 4.340, telephone: 01206 872087, email: ll17971@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Lynne Julie Cahill
University of Sussex
Available via Moodle
Of 977 hours, 0 (0%) hours available to students:
977 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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