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Language Development

The composition of human language is divided into many individual verbal and symbolic cues. Noticeably, these cues allow others to comprehend and reproduce verbal, nonverbal acts. Moreover, as identified by many developmental theorists ‘comprehension’ always proceeds ‘reproduction’ as children will learn to identify individual sounds, words and sentences as they develop their communication skills. With this in mind, ‘Phonology’ refers to the sound of a language spoken by an individual. Whereas, ‘Phonemes’ are fragments or units of sound that can affect the meaning of a word within the structure of a language. For example; the words ‘hat’ and ‘fat’ are identical apart from the phonemes ‘h’ and ‘f’ which dictates to how we comprehend and pronounce each word.

In addition, a phoneme can also be referred to as the smallest ‘Semantic’ or meaning of a word within the human language. For example; ‘I’ refers to a phoneme and subject at the same time. According to Tomasello (2005), a child will learn how to recognise and connect phonemes with semantics to both comprehend and reproduce a passage of words within a sentence. Noticeably, this also formulates the child’s understanding of people, objects, actions and relations. The last component of language is ‘Grammar,’ grammar is the utilisation of critical elements like ‘syntax,’ ‘inflection,’ and ‘intonation’ to formulate a sentence.

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Noticeably, this forms a child’s understanding of people, objects, actions, and relations. The last component of language is ‘Grammar,’ grammar is the utilisation of ‘Syntax’s,’ ‘inflection,’ and ‘intonation’ to formulate a sentence. With this in mind, syntax refers to the order of words and their meaning within the sentence. For example; “Alfred walked away from Alex.” “Alex walked away from Alfred.” “Walked Alex from away Alfred.” Note how the order of the words within the first sentence and second sentence has resulted in two different meanings. Moreover, how the violation of basic rules within the English language has rendered the third sentence incomprehensible. In addition, morphemes are the smallest words or letters within the English language that has meaning.

Knowing of this, ‘inflections’ are morphemes that are added to a word to modify their meaning. For example; when talking about more than one thing or past events, ‘s’ and ‘ed’ are added to the words respectively. ‘Intonation’ however refers to the raised tone of the speaker at the end of a sentence and is implemented in many ways within different cultures. Noticeably, these cultural language conventions of ‘Pragmatics’ can also change the meaning of a word within different societies depending upon the speaker’s relationship and cultural beliefs with the person they are conversing with. This is an event within the Mandarin Chinese culture as one word can take on multiple meanings depending upon the tone of the word spoken.

The brain’s ability to process language

Located within the cerebral cortex of the brain the cognitive and neural processing system for language develops as the child matures. Knudson (2004) suggest that there is a ‘sensitive’ or ‘critical period’ for a child to acquire language as a child rarely masters a language when they are older. Moreover, research by Molfese & Betz (1988) had identified the lateral development of language to the left and right cerebral hemisphere when listening to verbal speech cues. Noticeably, this is in contrast to activity within the right cerebral hemisphere when non-verbal cues are presented. In addition, individual researchers like Ressel, Wilke, Lidzba, Lutzenburger, & Kragelah-Maon (2008) have associated the degree of lateral language development with age. More importantly, as identified by Norbury, Tomblin & Biship (2008) damage within the Broca area of the brain will result in the individual being unable to construct a coherent grammatical passage of speech.

A critical period of language development

As previously mentioned, a child’s speech & language development occurs during the early stage of infancy. With this in mind, many developmental researchers like Krudson (2004), Lenneberg (1967) have suggested that there is a ‘sensitive’ or ‘critical period’ for an individual to acquire a language. Research by Curtiss (1977) reinforces this concept after the observation of Genie, an 18-year-old resident of Los Angeles who had been derived from the social and emotional experiences that allow an individual to acquire a language. However, this tragic example is not a convincing argument as Genie might have been intellectually impaired, to begin with. Whereas, recent studies have indicated a ‘critical period’ in language acquisition. Namely, the Johnson & Newport (1989) study on the English proficiency of adult native Koreans, Chinese and the acquisition of a second language.

Noticeably, their results had indicated a correlation between a migrant’s age and their ability to answer English based questions. As young children scored significantly higher than other migrants who had lived within the country for a longer period of time. Therefore, the critical period hypothesis suggests that children process the ability to learn multiple languages during the early developmental stages of life. Although Elman (1994) argued that a child’s information processing system is more proficient during this period due to their ability to comprehend segmented passages of language. With this in mind, the ‘less is more’ hypothesis infers that a child’s ability to learn a language is based on processing less information. To test this hypothesis Elman (2005) implemented a simulated ‘linguistic input’ computer program. The results indicated that learning a small segment of speech is easier than trying to learn a larger passage of speech.

A historical perspective of language development

Individual developmental researchers like B. F. Skinner (1957) argued that language is a result of ‘operant conditioning.’ That children respond to the positive or negative reinforcement of their parents when learning to pronounce a word. Linguist Noam Chomsky (1959) challenged Skinner’s ‘verbal behavioural learning’ by suggesting that language is an innate biological mechanism that matures over time. Moreover, that Skinner’s ‘operant conditioning’ model for learning a language is flawed in many ways. For example; children according to Chomsky rarely receive a reward for the correct pronunciation of a word by their parents.

More importantly, that language acquisition requires, in his view, the parent to correctly pronounce the word in the first place. As everyday speech by other individuals within the child’s immediate environment will utter slang words or incoherent grammar errors. In addition, observational studies of parent-child interactions have indicated that parents rarely explain how phonology, semantics and syntax’s play a critical role in formulating a sentence. Noticeably, these results also reinforce Chomsky’s innate biological theory of language acquisition.

Moreover, these innate universal learning mechanisms according to Pinker (2004) enables a child to conceptualise on an unconscious level how grammar is structured. It was also labelled by Chomsky as the ‘language acquisition device’ or ‘LAD’ when a child acquires a language via verbal cues. In addition, Fudor (1983) also argued that these biological linguistic mechanisms form a separate cognitive system or ‘module.’ This nativist approach to language appears to have validity as almost all children who have been exposed to verbal cues are capable of acquiring a language. Pinker (1994) also suggests that the language complexity within hunter-gatherer societies is no more or less that of developed technological societies. With this in mind, culture according to Pinker is not related to a child’s ability to learn a language.

Furthermore, research by Goldin-Meadow (2003/2007) had revealed that children were capable of imposing their own grammatical rules to sign language, even though they had not been instructed to do so. Noticeably, these results support and reinforce the nativist approach to acquiring a language. Conversely, unlike Chomsky (1959) who believed that language acquisition is a separate module of the cognitive system. Other developmental theorists like Gopnik & Mettzoff (2002) have argued that language is not obtained unless one has a clear understanding of the subject or object that one is talking about. Therefore, in their view, the interaction of many cognitive systems must be utilised in order to acquire a language.

Environmental & Interactional approach to learning

Chomsky (1959) offers a compelling argument when theorising about language acquisition. However, other contemporary theorists like Hampson & Nelson (1993) emphasise the correlation between one’s experiences and language acquisition. Moreover, how the ‘nativist’ approach does little to stimulate a child’s language development. Evidence also indicates that children do in fact receive some form of feedback from their parents and it also supports the interactive social theory that children need to communicate with others to master a language. In addition, according to Snow (1999), & Tomastello (2005) the ‘functionalist’ approach focuses on the motivation of the individual and how they acquire language to understand the context or meaning of others around them. For example; this premise is observable when a child interacts with apparent to gain the necessary social skills to help them through life.

Furthermore, Bruner (1983) outlined how language-related games promote the phonological regularity of speech that’s necessary for language development. With this in mind, speech regularity as identified by Newport & Aslin (2000) can offer us a statistical analysis of language phonology. That is, how children are able to identify and employ verbal cues in order to form basic sentences. This ‘statistical learning’ approach also infers that language is acquired and is not the result of one’s innate biological disposition. In addition, according to Saffran, Werker, & Werner (2006), statistical learning is not limited to language as we are also able to recognise patterns within music.

The preverbal period of language acquisition

With the knowledge of the basic theoretical components of language, let’s now focus on the individual elements that take place before a child begins to speak, like speech perception. Speech perception as identified earlier is related to the first clear distinctive words spoken by a child at the end of a child’s first year of life. It also proceeds the 18 months to 2 year period when a child is able to join a few words together. Noticeably, DeCasper & Fifer (1980) attributed a child’s development of language acquisition to ‘prosody’ during the prenatal period. That is the foetuses ability to recognise the audible rhythmic rhythm, tempo and intonation within the words spoken by the mother. However, as pointed out by DeCasper et al. ‘prosody’ is only one key element of ‘language acquisition’ as ‘categorical perception’ also plays a vital role.

With this in mind, categorical perception refers to sound discrimination. Namely, the uniqueness of each phoneme within a phoneme category. For example; ‘b’ and ‘p’ fall within the same phonemic category as they both lie on the same acoustic continuum. Although when articulated ‘b’ is noticeably shorter than ‘p.’ Therefore, the ‘voice onset time’ or lag time of breath through the lips is quantitatively longer with ‘p’ than it is with ‘b.’

To illustrate this concept Fimas, Siquelland, Jasczyk, & Vigorito (1971) implemented a synthetic speech synthesiser within an infant categorical perception study. Their results indicated that one to four-month-old infants who were subjected to a synthetic sound of ‘ba’ with a ‘VOT’ of +20 msec had become habituated to the stimuli as their amplitude of sucking on a pacifier was observed as being quantitatively slower.

However, when subjected to a new perceptual category e.g. ‘pa’ with a VOT of +40 msec the infant’s recovery time or habituation was identified as being longer. Fimas and his colleagues suggest that this indicates a perceived acknowledgement of category perception. Moreover, a recent study by Werker & Young (2005) has found that babies as young as one month of age is also capable of perceiving differences within one’s category of speech. Knowing of this, a perception of a speech category is developed over time through one’s experiences.

The recognition of speech segmentation

A child’s experiences with words allow them to identify the boundaries or segmentation of words within their native tongue. Some developmental researchers also suggest that this is an innate ability, that a child instinctively picks up on the intonation or stress of the first syllable within a two-syllable word, like “mum-my,’ ‘dad-dy.’ With this in mind, pattern intonation as identified by Jusczyk, Cutler, Redanz (1993) refers to a child’s familiarity with stressed syllables within their own language. In addition, according to Saffran et al. (2006,), infants learn to identify word boundaries within a given language.

That the statistical structure of a language can be associated with pattern recognition as some sounds often proceed other sounds within a sentence. For example; the syllable ‘pre’ in ‘pretty’ can be linked and implemented in front of other words. However, as identified by Saffran and his colleagues the probability of ‘pre’ being followed by ‘tty’ or ‘tend’ is approximately 80 per cent. Moreover, that the implementation of ‘paired’ syllables is a statistical regularity that’s employed by parents as a developmental tool to aid in a child’s early development. Noticeably, as identified by Saffran (2006) regularities in acoustic cues does not constitute a language as children ate able to identify paired musical tones.

Child-directed speech

Not surprisingly, segmented or ‘child-directed speech’ (CDS) is frequently implemented by individuals when interacting with infants. With this in mind, BoyessonBardies (1999) characterised CDS as one’s exaggerated pronouncement of familiar words, it also extends to, in his view, to the person’s employment of noticeable pauses between each word. In addition, according to Hampson & Nelson (1993) CDS, sentences are grammatically correct and kept short for ease of repetition. Another noticeable characteristic of CDS, in WalkerAndrew’s (1997) view, is one’s exaggerated emotional cues and facial features when pronouncing a word. Moreover, Saffran et al. (2006) also found that older children adapt to this socially accepted form of speech when talking to infants. Furthermore, research by Casper & Aslin (1990) had indicated that children, namely infants, will pay more attention to the animated gestures of the individual talking to them.

This exaggerated form of speech is also evident, in Berbeson, Miller, & McCunes’s (2006) opinion when deaf mothers use child-directed speech to communicate with deaf infants. Therefore, within different social situations ‘childdirected speech’ can be seen as a positive experience. For example, Golinkoff & Alioto (1995) had identified the positive effects of CDS when individuals attempt to learn a foreign language.

Babies and the sounds they make.

Early sounds that are made by babies appear to be random, however, as identified by Locke (2002) these sounds, on average, across cross-cultural studies have indicated a predictable pattern. It’s also based on, in his view, to the physical development of a baby’s mouth, tongue and larynx which is located in the throat. With this in mind, burps and grunts can be associated with the baby’s breathing during the first few weeks of life.

Noticeably, around the two month period mammies produce reflexive one syllable vowel sounds like ‘ooh’ and ‘goo’ when feeling discomfort. This is also referred to as ‘cooing’ as it often sounds like the vocalisations made by pigeons. In addition, as indicated by Lock & Snow (1997) ‘reduplication babbling’ occurs during the six to ten month period when babies are able to produce a syllable which consists of a consonant and a vowel. For example; ‘na, na, na, na,’ or ‘ba, ba, ba, ba.’

Moreover, according to StoelGammon & Menn (1997) infants between 12 and 18 months of age will begin to replicate the same rhythmic intonations of others around then when trying to verbalise. Knowing of this, language acquisition according to Stoel and his colleagues can be perceived as incoherent utterances when the infant replies upon the audible feedback of their own voice to promote vocal development.

Gestures & Nonverbal responses made by infants

As previously mentioned, a gesture can be identified as a form of communication. Therefore, with this in mind, developmental theorists like Iverson & Goldin-Meadow (2005) have speculated that gesturing proceeded oral communication. Noticeably, this is evident according to Capone & McGregor (2004) when infants during the first year of life will use gestures and nonverbal responses to communicate. For example; when reaching and grasping for unfamiliar object infants will employ facial expressions in Nino & Bruner’s (1978) opinion to transfer a nonverbal message to their caregiver.

Namely, that they require the unobtainable object that’s just out of reach. Reassuringly, parents on average are able to comprehend and respond to the needs of the child. Moreover, as identified by Golinkoff (1986) infants at 12 months of age who fail to obtain the attention of the individual who they are trying to communicate with often resort to crying. In addition, according to Masataka (2003), Capone & McGregor (2004) infants between 11 and 12 months of age will engage with others within their environment by ‘showing,’ ‘giving,’ and ‘pointing’ towards objects of interest. More importantly, by the 12th to 18th month chronological period after birth these gestures will be associated with vocalisations as the child begins to attach a label to an object, event or person. This emergence of early symbolic referencing can also be interpreted as the foundation of a child’s understanding of language. In Bates & Dick’s (2002) view, a gradual transition from symbolic gesture will be replaced by a more complex system of language.

A Child’s ability to learn words

Infants first acknowledge words as segmented pieces of sound that are eventually associated with and give meaning to an object, person, place or event within their environment. Noticeably, this milestone in development also allows the infant to connect multiple words together to form a coherent language. Therefore, early word recognition is critical when learning a language for the first time. Saffran and his colleagues (2006) also suggested that infants are capable of recognising words by eight months of age.

Not surprisingly, according to Tincoff & Jusczk (1999) words that are repeated like ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ are associated with the appropriate person. Moreover, that repeated words, in general, are also easier to learn. With this in mind, Fenson et al. (1994) acknowledge that word comprehension varies in infants at an early age across cultures. For example; research by Hamilton, Plunkett, & Schafer (2000) found that British children at 12 months of age are capable of comprehending around two to 25 words.

These results also indicated that twelve to 18-month-old infants have a vocabulary growth of 20 to 70 words during this developmental stage. More importantly, as identified by Carey (1978) a ‘word spurt’ or ‘vocabulary explosion’ starts to occur between the 18th month and 6 years of age time period. In addition, research by Clark (2004) revealed that ‘overextension’ also occurs within this time frame when a child adheres a meaning to multiple objects within their environment. For example; a ‘swan’ or ‘geese’ might be labelled as a ‘duck’ by the child. Landau, Smith & Jones (1988) attributed these errors in labelling to the child’s observation or perception of objects with similar shapes.

Another contributing factor according to Nelson (1974) relates to how multiple objects appear to have a similar function. Conversely, although rare, ‘under-extension’ can occur, for example; a child might label an object based on narrow parameters. Like calling a shoe a ‘shoe’ only if it’s located at the bottom of a wardrobe. Meints, Plunkett, & Harris (1999) suggest that this occurs as a result of a child’s inability to recognise the individual elements associated with an object within a category

Combing words together

As a child approaches their second birthday a child will start to combine words to convey a message. Noticeably, these omit certain words like ‘the’ and ‘is’ when the phrase is formed. For example; a child might say ‘dog bark’ instead of ‘the dog is barking.’ According to Boysson-Bardies (1999), such utterances are referred to as ‘telegraphic speech’ and will increase in length as the child develops. With this in mind, a classic study by Roger Brown (1973) had revealed a correlation between three children, namely, Eve, Adam and Sarah and their increased duration of speech over many months. Furthermore, as identified by Carey (1978) a child of three will process a vocabulary of approximately 10,000 words. More importantly, that a child’s acquisition of word knowledge is not a result of direct explicit learning from their parents.

Rather, a child will acquire this knowledge by a process known as ‘fast-mapping.’ Fast mapping relates to a child’s ability to comprehend a word when they hear it for the first time. For example; while walking through a park a parent might say to the child “Chloe, look at the sparrow.” Instinctively, the child comprehends the meaning of the word that has been conveyed by the parent. Surprisingly, the child does not automatically think of the ‘sparrow’ as a ‘duck,’ ‘pigeon,’ or any other type of bird. In addition, despite the ambiguity of the statement made by the parent, individual elements like the birds head, wing and feet are not labelled as a ‘sparrow’ by the child. In fact, the child’s assessment of the word and its meaning often proves to be accurate. So how does this work?

Let’s now look at the semantic mechanisms involved that make this possible. Contemporary developmental researchers suggest that semantic development is only possible if the child has a predisposition to a similar object and the labels associated with them. With this in mind, Waxman & Ledz (2006) purposed that general rules or word ‘constraints’ apply to remove implausible meanings for new words, it also helps in his opinion to guide a child towards a new meaning. In other words, it’s a process that allows a child to learn from word association.

Knowing of this, Markmann (1989) theorised that children associate novel new words with ‘whole-objects.’ Moreover, that ‘mutual-exclusivity’ also occurs when children in Golinkoff, Mervis, & Hirsh-Pazck’s (1994) view, associate an object with one name. However, as we know objects can be referred to in many ways. For example; a dog might be called ‘snoopy’ or ‘puppy’ while being labelled as a ‘bloodhound’ at the same time. Therefore, these constraints or ‘rules of thumb’ as identified by Markmann (1992) can be referred to as ‘default assumptions, as probabilistic biases’ that are seen as guesses and not as a final solution.

Early grammatical development during childhood

As previously mentioned, early language acquisition refers to a child’s ability to utilise ‘word constraints’ or ‘rules of thumb’ when trying to comprehend a novel new word. Moreover, it also relates to a child’s social experiences with others within their environment. With this in mind, Tomasello (2005) suggests that learning is simplified when a parent categorises or labels an object that a child is already interested in. Noticeably, this ‘wordobject association’ can be achieved when a parent points directly at the object of interest. In addition, once a child is capable of joining two or more words together, the organisation and structure of these utterances become more important.

Therefore, native language acquisition is based on grammatical rules within one’s language. Noticeably, such rules include ‘word-order’ sensitivity, that is, a child’s acknowledgement and placement of words in the correct order. For example; according to Mandel, Kemler-Nelson, & Jusczyk (1996) a child must learn to place the ‘subject’ before a ‘verb’ within a sentence. More importantly, Bloom (1996) attributed this ‘telegraphic’ ability of word placement to a child’s comprehension and imitation of another person’s knowledge of word order.

Furthermore, another rule within the English language involves implementing (s) or (es) when producing a plural, or ‘ed’ to indicate the past tense of a verb. With this in mind, there are also irregularities to the rule like a man (men), mouse (mice) that do not adhere to the conventional rules. Moreover, according to Marcus et al. (1992), there are also ‘over regularisation’ errors made by children when trying to employ the use of a plural or verb. Not surprisingly, as identified by Nicholadis, Palmer, & Marentette (2007) overregularization errors are not limited to the English language and can be corrected by experience over time. Noticeably, this premise was also explained in Marcus’s (2004) ‘rule and memory’ model of children’s grammar. In addition, contemporary researchers have indicated that native language acquisition is likely to be the result of more than one process.

A statistical analysis of language

As theorised by nativist Chumsky (1965) language acquisition is an innate ability that allows us to recognise the structure, the principles and variables that construct our language. Chomsky also identified that some of these parameters are different within non-English speaking languages. However, as identified by Pinker (1994) some principles appear to be universal, like the distinction between ‘nouns’ and ‘verbs’ within almost every language. Developmental researcher Bowerman (1988) also emphasised that semantic development occurs when individuals adhere to a set of rules within their native tongue. Such rules according to Bowerman include semantic ‘bootstrapping’ which refers to a child’s ability to identify the ‘agent’ or person who performs an action and the ‘patient’ or object that is being acted upon.

Another important aspect of this principle refers to the child being able to comprehend that ‘agents’ are more likely to act on an inanimate object. Therefore, semantic bootstrapping can be seen as one variable in language acquisition, it does not, however, account for one’s ability to comprehend the meaning of a word or how syntaxes are implemented in a sentence.

With this in mind, a statistical approach to language acquisition can allow us to gain a greater perspective on the statistical structure of grammar within the English language. Moreover, how a language is formulated by a set of reliable rules that can only be altered under the right grammatical conditions. For example; how the word (the) or (a) always predicts that a ‘noun’ is present within a sentence. Saffran and his colleagues (2006) attributed the recognition of these word combinations to the child’s sensitivity to statistical regulations within a language. More importantly, that a child’s phenology (speech) development is also based on these consistent word units. Saffran & Wilson (2003) also argued that word combinations are critical in a child’s acquisition of a language.

One other aspect of language acquisition relates to a child’s knowledge of speech that is gained while interacting with others within their environment. Noticeably, this environment approach to learning is different from Chumsky’s (1965) ‘Child-directed speech’ approach, as the phonetic pronunciation of a word by a parent does not according to Murray, Johnson, & Peters (1990) ensure the transference of knowledge that is required to understand what is meant by the grammar. However, in Brown & Halon’s (1970) view, audible feedback by a parent or caretaker is required to correct a child’s grammar when a child attempts to combine units of words together.

With this in mind, there are three types of feedback that a caregiver is required might employ to correct an improper statement made by a child. The first refers to ‘Expansion’ or the repeating of a sentence in its correct form. The second relates to ‘Recast’ or rehearsal of a sentence with a slight adjustment to its structure. The third type of feedback relates to a ‘Clarification question’ which is a signal by the parent that they are unable to understand or comprehend the verbal statement made by the child. Furthermore, according to Nicholas, Light-Brown, & Shera (2001) corrected grammar helps facilitate a higher level of grammatical competency. Moreover, as identified by Ortega & Lberri-Shea (2005) it also helps one learn a second language.

Pragmatic Development

In the previous chapters, we have focused on the formal structure and context of language. However, pragmatics in Ninio & Snow’s (1988) opinion refers to the elements within a language that allows a person to communicate in a social context. Knowing of this, the earliest form of pragmatics can be observed when a child’s intonation of a word is combined with an appropriate gesture. For example; an 18 month-old might say “mine” when trying to grasp for a toy that is just out of reach.

Such pragmatics according to Rutter & Durkin (1987) can also be expressed as a gaze when they are expecting a response from their vocalisation or gesture. Moreover, as the child starts to connect multiple words and gestures together they will be able to engage in a conversation or discourse with their peers. Piaget (1926) also argued that children at this developmental stage are ‘egocentric’ as their conversations are often focused on themselves. With this in mind, ‘collective monologues’ as identified by Piaget can be expressed in the following example;

Joanne: “My doll’s name is Cherie”Kim: “I like my red top” Joanne: “I give her lots of hugs”Kim: “It’s nicer than my other tops” Joanne: “She gives me kisses”Kim: “Do you like my red top?”

Bloom, Rocissano, & Hood’s (1976) longitudinal study of ‘Parent-children’ conversations had revealed that 21 to 36-month-old children will engage in the same topic as their parents. More importantly, that their contribution to the topic had increased from 20 to 40 per cent during this period of time. Furthermore, in order to communicate effectively a child needs to be sensitive to the listener’s status, knowledge and ability to comprehend the conversation.

Noticeably, this begins at an early stage when children and parents interact with each other. As both the child and parent according to Siegal & Surian (2007) will look for certain facial expressions as a way of assessing the other person’s comprehension of the subject. In addition, as identified by Wellman & Lempers (1977) the physical proximity of both the speaker and listener is critical when communicating with one another. With this in mind, Shwe & Markman’s (1997) view a child under the above conditions will clarify their speech if they believe that their utterance has not been understood by the listener.

Moreover, as explained by Baldwin (1993) a child will also adjust the complexity of the topic to fit the listener’s status. For example; a four or five years old will be more articulate when communicating with an adult. In addition, to be an effective communicator both parties must have knowledge of the subject or a ‘common ground’ of understanding of what is being discussed. Otherwise, according to Clark (1992), the listener will be confused.

Listening Skills

Although the ratio of a speaker to listener increases as the child develops, a child as young as two years of age will, in Siegal & Surian’s (1992) opinion, nod and say “yes” to simplify their understanding of the topic – especially if the child is responding to an adult. Another aspect of listening relates to ‘comprehension monitoring,’ or the child’s ability to ask for clarification of the subject at the appropriate time. In addition, a nonverbal facial expression or ‘puzzled’ look according to Robinson (1992) often precedes comprehension monitoring. It’s also critical in Guasti’s (2005) view for a child to grasp the motives or intentions of the speaker. To be able to decipher the difference between a statement and intentional question. Guasti’s research had revealed that children are able to do just this as a result of interpreting the intonation of the utterances of the speaker.

For example; a parent might say to a child “Can you please clean up your room?” or “if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, clean up your room.” Notice how both sentences relate to the same subject matter, however, unlike the first sentence the second sentence is rhetorical. Contemporary developmental researchers like Pan and Snow (1999) have correlated a child’s conversational experiences during their primary years with their ability to differentiate between these two types of sentences. Moreover, according to Hoicka & Gatlis (2008) children during adolescence are also capable of understanding an ambiguous statement, pun or joke.

A Child’s ability to read

The ability to understand written text is a critical developmental stage that allows us as individuals to communicate with others. More importantly, that it’s acquired through instruction and not by our biological disposition. With this in mind, a child’s ‘phonology’ or proficiency to speak a native language is closely correlated with a child’s ability to read, write and understand a text. In addition, it also involves the coordination of many developmental skills. Like a child’s cognitive ability to interpret visual and audible cues via their long-term memory.

In Levy, Gong, Hessels, Evans, & Jared’s (2006) view, it’s also why the pronunciation and repetition of a spoken word by a caregiver at home plays a vital role in the comprehension, the development of a child’s written text at school. Moreover, positive social experiences with siblings according to Bialystock (1996) also contributes to a child’s understanding of writing. In addition, a child’s early attempt to read is also known as the ‘emergent literacy’ stage. For example; when a parent reads to a child, the child will often follow the finger of the parent from one word to the other. In this way, a child begins to recognise and associate a word with a phonetic sound.

Whitehurst & Lonigan (1998) also suggest that pictures aid in a child’s independent reading. With this in mind, a number of developmental theorists suggest that word recognition by a child occurs during many segmented stages. For example; ‘Orthography’ or the use of English spelling rules is one strategy that a child might focus on when trying to learn to read. Another strategy might involve reverting back to the phonetic segmentation and pronunciation of a word. Or the implementation of both strategies when transitioning from one developmental stage to the next. To illustrate this premise, a stage model by Uta Firth (1985) will be examined, Frith referred to the first stage as being ‘logographic’ in nature as a child relates to a written word as a ‘logo’ or ‘symbol.’ Moreover, according to Firth it also refers to a semantic concept.

Noticeably, during this stage, a child might also look for the salient visual features, like the letters at the beginning and end of each word, or the length of the word. For example; the word ‘tomorrow’ is structured differently to ‘Tom,’ it also infers that word recognition is correlated with a set of visual patterns. Within the next ‘phonological reading stage’ a child will learn the rules that govern word combinations, and the smaller units of words that are spoken within the English language. With this in mind, these two processes are also known as the ‘grapheme to phoneme correspondence’ rule or ‘GPC.’

For example, a child learns a word like ‘small’ by identifying the four ‘graphemes’ in the word. The child would then ‘sound them out’ in order to conceptualise what the word might sound like. It’s also a unique learning skill in Byme’s (1995) view when trying to pronounce an unfamiliar word for the first time. In addition, a child might find this strategy difficult, to begin with as some grapheme sounds change depending on the context of the word. For example; ‘o’ sounds different in the word ‘Tom’ than it does in the word ‘our.’ Furthermore, in the ‘orthographic stage’ children will learn to identify similar orthographic sounding word structures like ‘sound,’ ‘bound’ in order to formulate an understanding or word sequences.

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  1. Firstly, I would just love to thank you.
    I have a 18month old who is just starting to say some words properly.
    Having you explain how it all works and how they pick up the language, has opened up my mind and now I realise that having a variety of words spoken to them and in different structures can be useful for their development.
    This is fantastic ! Thank you again.

    1. Hi Alyssa, thanks for your kind thoughts, and I’m glad that you have come across something that is beneficial to you and your family. After all, that’s the goal of this site. More importantly, feel free to visit this site as often as it pleases you.

      Alex Monroe.

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