The Starting Big approach to language learning

Inbal Arnon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The study of language acquisition has a long and contentious history: researchers disagree on what drives this process, the relevant data, and the interesting questions. Here, I outline the Starting Big approach to language learning, which emphasizes the role of multiword units in language, and of coarse-to-fine processes in learning. I outline core predictions and supporting evidence. In short, the approach argues that multiword units are integral building blocks in language; that such units can facilitate mastery of semantically opaque relations between words; and that adults rely on them less than children, which can explain (some of) their difficulty in learning a second language. The Starting Big approach is a theory of how children learn language, how language is represented, and how to explain differences between first and second language learning. I discuss the learning and processing models at the heart of the approach and their cross-linguistic implications.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)937-958
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number5
StatePublished - 5 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • language acquisition
  • multiword units
  • usage-based models


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