Friday, May 6, 2011

Insights from Linguistics 350: First Language Acquisition

Now that I've finished my linguistics course on first language acquisition, I thought I'd share some of what I learned, as it relates to raising a child.

First off, the course is called 'First Language Acquisition' & that's a key point to make here. People often talk about 'learning' to talk, as though it is a skill that can be taught explicitly. Many researchers have delved into this question & the general consensus seems to be that language is not learned in the sense that other skills are. Children don't need lessons or constant correction when they make mistakes: their language skills will develop at their own pace & correction or teaching are unnecessary, if not detrimental.

"Tomasello & Farrar (1986) concluded that those mothers who spend more time talking about the object of the child's visual gaze patterns had babies who (1) used their first words earlier and (2) had larger initial vocabularies." (p.266) From this I take: talk to your baby about the things s/he appears to be interested in.

"...mothers who are more responsive to their children's vocal behaviour typically have children who show more rapid language growth." (p.?) Next lesson: listen & encourage vocalizations from your baby.

Our tendency to simplify our speech & speak "Motherese" or "Child directed speech" (CDS) to babies & young children seems to be a universal phenomenon which likely has a purpose in language development. Our babies, toddlers & children don't give us the same kind of feedback as adults or older kids would when listening to us speak, therefore we slow our speech down & simplify it. Essentially, they're triggering us to give them what they need. It's a great feedback system that helps them acquire language faster than if we just spoke complex sentences as we would with another adult.

"A second study (Furrow, Nelson, & Benedict, 1979) examined six 18-month-olds and their mothers over the course of 9 months. They found that the mothers who used longer & more complex speech when speaking to their children had children who showed the least language gains at the end of the study. In other words, the more mothers used CDS, the more rapidly their children acquired language." (p.266) More evidence to show that baby talk is actually helpful to toddlers.

Language acquisition is a complex process that takes time. You shouldn't expect your child to have perfect pronunciation by kindergarten. "By age 3, most children can produce all the vowel sounds & nearly all the consonant sounds. This does not mean that their productions are 100 percent accurate, but rather that the sounds are produced correctly in at least a few words. Consonants that are likely to be in error, even at the age of four or five are the liquids /r/ & /l/ & the fricatives /v/, /θ/ as in thin, & /ð/ as in the. In most cases, correct pronunciation of all sounds is achieved by eight years of age."  (p.88)  So relax if junior still says 'I weally like dis' at age four: you don't need to rush him off to the speech therapist.

*Source: The Development of Language, 7th ed. Jean Berko-Gleason & Nan Bernstein Ratner

1 comment:

  1. This is so interesting. Often as a parent we see things that other parents do that we instinctively feel is not the best approach to something, but what can you say? I have friends who refuse to use "baby-talk" with their little ones, and who insist on correcting their toddlers' and preschoolers' grammar as they talk. I have always felt uncomfortable about this as it seems to interrupt the flow of the child's enthusiasm and chatter, and YAY your sources agree with me!! Now how to subtly bring this up around other parents without being preachy or judgey......


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