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Child Language Acquisition- Stages and Theories
Transcript of Child Language Acquisition- Stages and Theories
How children learn to talk
The Innate Theory
The Interactionist Theory
The Behaviorist Theory
Development of the Sub-systems
The child’s brain will automatically begin to make sense of utterances when exposed to speech because it has been ‘programmed’ to do so, similar to how a bird is ‘programmed’ to fly. This is because children are born with a specialised component of the brain, termed the ‘language acquisition device’, or LAD, which processes language and so enables them to develop language. While the innate approach recognises that children need to be exposed to language, it suggests that this exposure only acts as a trigger for developing the parts of the LAD specific to that language. The caretakers do not pay an active role in teaching the child to speak, but just provide the necessary trigger.
Key linguist: Noam Chomsky
Children learn how to speak by imitating the language they hear around them, with the person looking after them playing a very active role in teaching the child. A system of positive feedback is created by the caretaker, where the child is rewarded when they succeed in making recognisable utterances, and corrected when they don’t. More imitation is motivated by positive reinforcement, for example if their utterance is understood and acted upon.
Key linguist: B.F. Skinner
A child’s development of language is affected by many factors working together, such as their interactions with other people and developments in their thought processes as they understand certain concepts. One aspect of the theory suggests that children develop the use of more language as they understand the ideas behind it – for example, they will only be able to use the past tense when they understand what past time is. Another key idea is that the caretakers are indicated to by the child in supplying the suitable language experiences that the child needs to further develop their language skills. Essentially, it proposes that the complexities of language are not necessarily innate or learned, but emerge from a combination of biological, social and environmental influences.
Key linguist: Jean Piaget
Babies have a strong need for language, so they use body language to communicate while they can’t speak.
In this stage, babies go through 3 main phases as they start to learn how to produce the sounds of their language.
– Using body language, eye-contact and other non-verbal language to communicate.
– Producing vowel like sounds
– Experimenting making sounds of language, but these sounds are not recognisable as real words and do not have any meaning
In this stage, babies produce a small number of single, isolated words. Soundless communication is still very important because as they only know a few words, babies can mean very different things depending on how they say them and the context in which they say them.
i.e. Word + intonation + gesture can mean many different things because the child only really knows how to say that word
Children going through this stage make 2 word utterances that are usually highly abbreviated. Their utterances mainly consist of content words (words that refer to something in the real world, i.e. nouns, verbs and adjectives) as these can generally get the meaning across as directly as possible.
Many children also undergo a dramatic increase in vocabulary after they learn how to ask the question “What’s that?”.
After the telegraphic stage, rather than a 3-word stage, a period of 2-3 years of fast progress in various aspects of language occurs. As utterance length increases, certain grammatical morphemes gradually start to emerge between the major construction blocks of the verbs and nouns which mainly comprise the 2-word stage.
First, children may start to produce words with the right morphology simply because they are repeating words that they have heard. Eventually however, the mind begins to recognise patterns in the words they are hearing and tries to arrange it into systems. As they try to develop and apply rules the child may seem to go backwards, making morphological mistakes that didn’t used to happen, and so correction by the caretaker is again helpful here.
Understanding that morphemes can change the meaning of word
Distinguishing the meaning of different morphemes and how they affect words in certain ways
Realising that there are irregular words which don’t follow the usual morphological rules, and remembering how to modify their meanings (without using the 'regular' morphemes)
•Children have a strong motivation for learning language as they need it to communicate their needs
•They can develop the skill relatively quickly
•They do not learn language only by imitation
•They can understand much more language than they can use
•They must have exposure to language and be able to interact with people in that language to learn it
Interaction, reading, and audio-visual materials provide the exposure needed to develop language
What the scientists agree on...
Language acquisition actually begins long before a child utters their first word. Within a few weeks of birth, babies can already recognise and show preference for the sounds and intonations of their first language compared to other languages. This shows that language acquisition may start even before birth – in the womb...
Throughout the stages, children must also learn the accepted conventions for their culture in terms of eye contact and turn taking while communicating with others.
They have to learn how much eye contact is appropriate to maintain when speaking with others, and when they can acceptably enter and contribute to the conversation, as this varies from culture to culture. This just has to be learnt through practise, interaction and exposure to the language.
The time period given for each stage are approximate averages, not set standards, and it is important to remember that there is often no clear transition between the stages
(a.k.a 1 word stage)
(a.k.a. 2 word stage)
Brief summary video
sessions of Mandarin didn’t improve the response of American babies to the sounds of Mandarin Chinese
sessions of mandarin didn’t improve their response to Mandarin Chinese
sessions of mandarin DID improve their response to the sounds of Mandarin Chinese - to the level of Taiwanese babies who had had 10 months of exposure to Mandarin!
Evidence that human interaction is important for language development
It takes a human for babies to learn how to produce sounds and acquire language. While exposure to audio visual materials such as TV may still be very helpful, they learn more quickly when interacting with people.
This should not be their only form of language exposure!
Second Language Acquistion
- Learning how to use the speech organs to produce the sounds used in the language
Unit of sound in word (e.g. there are 3 phonemes in ‘word’)
Some phonemes are easier to pronounce than others, and once a child has learnt how to produce a certain sound, they may substitute it into a word in place of a phoneme that is more difficult to pronounce.
Here, correction and positive reinforcement are very important.
Learning where in the mouth a sound is produced
Learning how exactly to produce that sound
Imitating sounds correctly when it is often impossible to see what is happening inside the mouth of a person as they speak
Producing forms of words that they would not have heard in their surrounding environments shows that the language acquisition process is creative and that children actually actively construct the system of language rather than just imitating what they hear.
- Learning how to modify words to create a variation in meaning
For example, learning how to express the different tenses and how to distinguish between singular and plural
Study of the rules by which words are formed
mallest unit of meaning in a word which is relevant to the word's overall meaning
(e.g. the 2 morphemes in “meaning” are “mean” and the suffix “-ing”)
While caregivers often don’t actively teach children the morphology of the language, children are usually able to figure out most of it though the large amount of language they are exposed to
There is some regularity in the stages of morphological development...
- The development of a child’s vocabulary ('word-bank')
vocabulary, also called "lexicon",
onsists of a large number of
words, built up over many years.
Words that refer to something in the real word
(such as nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs)
Words that build the grammatical structure in a sentence (such as prepositions, pronouns and conjunctions)
Children must learn these words and the purposes for each
– Learning the meaning of a word and understanding the connections in meaning between different words
The study of word meaning
There are many challenges to this part of language acquisition because the child must understand what the relevant characteristics are for the correct and accurate use of a word to identify something
They need to...
• Figure out which word out of the many uttered refers to which thing
• Work out which object/thing goes with the word being learnt
• Recognise that different words may refer to the same thing, and yet that all of those labels have slightly different meanings
e.g. bird, budgie, pet, and Chirpy may all refer to the same thing (family’s pet bird) but have slightly different meanings
• Realise that the same label might refer to many different things
e.g. “bird” may refer to many different birds as well as the family's budgie
Because of all these challenges, children sometimes make semantic mistakes such as
When a child uses a word to refer to more things than an adult would identify with that word. Children make this mistake with things that share a common characteristic as they explore how far labels can be extended.
For example, they might call a butterfly a bird, since they are both animals that can fly
When a child only uses a word for a limited number of the things that an adult would use the word for. For example, a child may refer to the family budgie as a bird but not realise that seagulls are also birds.
However, these are much less noticeable than over-generalisations or mismatches, and are often overlooked.
When a child understands a word to mean something completely different to what an adult thinks it means, for example calling a tree a bird.
As children learn the labels for more and more things, they also start to develop an understanding of the relationships between groups of words. A set of words that have a common area of meaning is called a
. For example, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom all fit into the semantic field “rooms of a house”
By school age, children find it easy to assign a large number of words to their semantic fields.
However, these mistakes only occur for a short time in a child’s development of language, and they soon become very accurate at correctly labelling objects, especially after they learn how to ask “What’s that?”.
The way words are arranged in a sentence can convey different messages, creating a variety of sentence types.
These sentence types each have a different purpose, and from school age, children can use language in many ways to express several types of messages.
In English, the 4 sentence types are:
– Sentence that makes a statement, e.g. “I thought the door was closed”
– Sentences that express a command or request, e.g. “Close the door”
– Sentences that ask a question, e.g. “Is the door closed?”
– Sentences that express a strong feeling of emotion, e.g. “Ow, my finger!”
Learning what each sentence type expresses
Learning how to create each type of sentence to express the needed message
The study of the structure of sentences
- Learning how to use the different sentence structures of the language
The child’s vocabulary consists of words from both languages, and the words are usually not translations of each other
As the child moves into 2 word utterances, words from both languages may be used within the same utterance, but the rate of mixing decreases rapidly from about 3 years onward
The child’s vocabulary grows in both languages as they learn words for the same concept in each language, though the development of separate sub-systems takes a little longer. By this time (usually at 4 yrs old), children become aware that they are speaking more than 1 language
When a child is exposed to 2 languages from the beginning of their life, and learns them at the same time
When a child is exposed to a second language when they are very young, but their first language is already substantially developed before they are exposed to the second language
Speaking a foreign language at home and learning English at school
There are 2 main ways through which bilingualism is developed by young children
When learning a second language, children go through many of the same stages as they do when learning their first language.
In general the younger a child is, the easier it is for them to learn a language, because...
• Their muscles are still developing, which makes learning how to produce the sounds of a language easier
• They are very responsive to sounds and can listen more accurately
• Their brain is very capable of learning new things
Young children take the input as it comes and assimilate it into the system of languages
For older people, learning a second language often involves a conscious teaching and learning process, so the type of input they are exposed to is very different to what younger learners experience
Older learners aren’t exposed to appropriately simplified speech
There are usually higher expectations for older learners, so they will often try to piece together complex structures before they’re ready
Older learners are not as frequently exposed to as much input as children
The input received by older learners is often very distorted by the language that they have already learnt, making it more difficult to arrive at the right patterns in the sub-systems of the second language
The input they are exposed to is artificial and of limited contexts
Older learners also generally have less motivation to learn a second language as they can already communicate with their first language – children need to learn language to communicate
Bilingualism is good:
It helps develop the child's brain and thinking
It helps them become aware that words are just arbitrary symbols for concepts
It exposes them to new ideas that, for example, may only be able to be expressed in a particular language, helping them think in different ways
It helps broaden the child's understanding of culture
It will be advantageous later in life
Bilingualism is bad:
It is damaging to children as it adds extra load for their brain in its formative years
It causes language learning difficulties and confusion for the child
However, as already stated, there is no real
proof for either opinion
There is varied opinion on how beneficial bilingualism is for a child, BUT there is no solid proof either way
Children are better at learning languages
Skill at learning languages plotted against age