How Babies (Really) Learn First Words, University of Pennsylvania Findings  
5/27/2011 7:40:14 AM

The current, long-standing theory suggests that children learn their first words through a series of associations; they associate words they hear with multiple possible referents in their immediate environment. Over time, children can track both the words and elements of the environments they correspond to, eventually narrowing down what common element the word must be referring to.

“This sounds very plausible until you see what the real world is like,” says Lila Gleitman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “It turns out it’s probably impossible.”