Babysit A Language Model From Scratch: Interactive Language Learning by Trials and Demonstrations


Humans are efficient language learners and inherently social creatures. Our language development is largely shaped by our social interactions, for example, the demonstration and feedback from caregivers. Contrary to human language learning, recent advancements in large language models have primarily adopted a non-interactive training paradigm, and refined pre-trained models through feedback afterward. In this work, we aim to examine how corrective feedback from interactions influences neural language acquisition from the ground up through systematically controlled experiments, assessing whether it contributes to learning efficiency in language models. We introduce a trial-and-demonstration (TnD) learning framework that incorporates three components: student trials, teacher demonstrations, and a reward conditioned on language competence at various developmental stages. Our experiments reveal that the TnD approach accelerates word acquisition for student models of equal and smaller numbers of parameters, and we highlight the significance of both trials and demonstrations. We further show that the teacher’s choices of words influence students' word-specific learning efficiency, and a practice-makes-perfect effect is evident by a strong correlation between the frequency of words in trials and their respective learning curves. Our findings suggest that interactive language learning, with teacher demonstrations and student trials, can facilitate efficient word learning in language models.

Zekun "Anderson" Wang
Zekun "Anderson" Wang
Graduate Research Assistant