Elizabeth Johnson

Canada Research Chair in Spoken Language Acquisition

Tier 2 - 2017-11-01
University of Toronto
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council


Research involves

Understanding how environmental factors impact language acquisition in children.

Research relevance

This research will improve understanding of how children learn their mother tongue in linguistically diverse settings.

How do Children Learn Language?

It’s a big moment when a child around the age of one speaks his or her first word—mama, flower, truck, more—in a way that is clearly understood by others. But getting to this point begins much earlier in the child’s life. 

Language acquisition experts now know that the process of learning to speak begins when children are babies. Between the age of six and 10 months, infants acquire the phoneme (sounds that distinguish one word from another) inventory of their language, learn to segment words from speech, and begin to attach meanings to words. This early development in language acquisition is depends critically on factors in the child’s environment. 

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, Canada Research Chair in Spoken Language Acquisition, aims to show how early life experience shapes the ability of children to perceive, produce and comprehend spoken language. She believes it is difficult to define normal speech development without taking into account the wide variety of environments experienced by children. 

Johnson is exploring whether infants whose primary caregivers are late learners of English face different developmental challenges than those whose parents learned English early. She is also examining what factors should be considered when assessing language skills and vocabulary size in infants who receive exposure to multiple varieties of spoken English.

Johnson’s research will improve knowledge about how children learn their mother tongue, and may also help identify language delays in children raised in linguistically diverse settings.