Lev Vygotsky was a groundbreaking Russian psychologist who studied child development, language acquisition, learning, and conceptual thought while working at the Institute of Psychology in Moscow from 1924–1934. His best-known work, Thought and Language (1934), was published shortly after he died of tuberculosis, but it was quickly suppressed by Stalin’s regime in 1936.
Vygotsky analyzed language by using what he called a developmental approach, arguing that thought and language became fused in human child development at a relatively early age, resulting in the development of more complex thought processes. Vygotsky’s analysis was built around a critique of Jean Piaget’s analysis of child development, and Vygotsky specifically argued that children internalized social speech to form the scaffolding for conceptual thought. This led Vygotsky to emphasize the importance of social interaction for learning and development, creating his theory of the “zone of proximal development.” This theory argued that mental development should be measured by accounting for what problems children could solve with the assistance of adults, in addition to what children could do by themselves.
Although Vygotsky’s students continued to build on his work after his death, he remained relatively unknown outside of the Soviet Union until 1962, when Thought and Language was translated into English. Interest in Vygotsky’s studies expanded further with the compilation and publication of a series of his essays on mental development and education, titled Mind in Society (1978).
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