What is it about language that draws Elma Blom? 'One of our most fascinating traits as humans is our ability to both learn language and flexibly adapt it to ever changing contexts', Blom explains. 'Take the way multilingual children mix languages, even in a single sentence, and the surprising words and structures that kids come up with when they're just learning to talk.'
The many facets of language development
Language learning is not always a smooth road. One possible obstacle is DLDs, developmental language disorders. Blom: 'Children with a DLD are like other children in many respects: they have normal intelligence and normal hearing, but they have a lot of trouble learning language. Their problems can be diverse in nature, but the most common denominator is difficulty with grammar and word finding. DLD occurs in different degrees, but overall the linguistic ability of children with a DLD tends to be a few years behind their peers without the disorder.'
Another line within Blom's research is multilingualism. "Young children are capable of learning not just one language, but many different ones side by side. That applies to all children, even those who have trouble learning language, and children with autism, Down syndrome or a DLD. There's a misconception that multilingualism is problematic, but from children who grow up with it we know that learning two, three, even four languages is no problem at all"