HOW CHILDREN LEARN LANGUAGE
How did language get in our minds? How did we learn to produce and understand speech? At birth we cannot speak, nor can we understand speech. However, it is true that gradually children all over the world, whatever the language they speak, will learn the basic vocabulary, syntax, and pronunciation of the language. In this chapter, the writer will elaborate how speech production and speech understanding are related.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF SPEECH SOUND
Babies do make sound through their mouths. They cry, coo like pigeons, gurgle, suck, blow, spit, babbling (e.g. ‘a’, ’u’, ’ma’, ’pa’, ’gi’) and make other virtually noises. à This is exercise how they articulate and control sounds.
- The one-word utterance
The individual differences and the precise time of when a word has been learned are the strong influence in determining when the children start to say their first word. It is said that children star to utter their first word at 4 months to 18 months old or even older.
- The many uses of single word
Children often use a single word, even the same word for many different purposes. For instance:
1. to name: ‘mama’ for mother, ‘nana’ for banana
2. to request: ‘nana’ for I want a banana
3. to emphasize actions: ‘bye-bye’ with different wave of hand
4. to express complex situations: ‘peach’ + ‘daddy’ + ‘spoon’ in situation where her father had put a piece of a peach onto a spoon.
- Two-and three-word utterance
At 18 months or so, many children start to produce two and three word utterances. At this stage, children use language for various purposes, namely:
1. to request: want cookie, more milk
2. to warning: my cup, mommy chair
3. to answer: mommy chair, banana table
4. to inform: red car, daddy bring
5. to refuse: no sleep,
6. to question: where doll?
- Function words and inflections
When two and three word utterances have been acquired, the child has something on which to elaborate. As the result, Function words (prepositions, article and auxiliaries) and inflections (plural and tenses) are acquired.
- According to Roger Brown, the acquisition of different function words and inflections referred to as grammatical morphemes. A morpheme is a root word or a part of a word that carries a meaning. Thus, for instance, the word ‘elephant’ consists of two morphemes, ‘elephant’, and plural (‘s’), as does the word ‘ran’. Consisting of ‘run’ and Past.
- Developing complex sentences
With longer utterances, simple structures typically develop into more complex ones. Children start to make negatives, questions, relative clauses and other complex structure. The acquisition according to Bellugi and Klima, develops in three main periods, namely:
- Period 1 = No/ not + affirmative utterance (U) à ‘no money’, ‘no play that’
- Period 2 = Auxiliary (do/ don’t) + U (but still crude) à ‘touch the snow no’
- Period 3 = Auxiliary (do/ don’t) + U (placed correctly) à ‘don’t touch it’
Bellugi and Klima’s sample all took about 6 months to pass the three periods above. However, it still depends on the individual differences.
SPEECH UNDERSTANDING AND ITS IMPORTANCE
- Speech understanding, the basis of speech production
Since children are not born with the knowledge of any particular language, it is necessary that they be exposed to the language in order to learn it. à
- Children are exposed to objects, events, and situations in the environment and to experiences in their minds.
- Children will not learn speech, if they are exposed only to speech sound.
- Even if the child hears a spoken word a thousand times, e.g. “dog”, there is no way for the child to discover the meaning of the word unless some environmental clue is provided (Picture of a dog for example).
- Learning Abstract Words
Feeling and ideas are not in the physical environment for the child to learn the language. How are they learned? The children have to observe speech, along with situations and events in the physical environment and then relate them to experiences and processes in the mind.
- Memory and language acquisition
Without a good memory, language learning would not be possible. Children store in memory a multitude of ordinary phrases and sentences, which can serve them for analysis later.
PARENTESE AND BABY TALK
- Parentese (formerly it is called Motherese) à used to refer to the sort of the speech that children receive when they are young. (regularly uses vocabulary and syntax)
- People who wish to communicate will naturally use speech that is at a linguistic level they think the hearer will understand.
- Facilitating nature of parentese may will be that children who receive language input learn to understand speech faster than children who do not.
- Baby Talk
Baby talk involves the use of vocabulary and syntax that is overly simplified and reduced. Most Baby Talk involves modification in vocabulary but still represent (somewhat) the sounds which various things make. E.g. bow-mow (dog), pee-pee (urine), choo-choo (train)
IMITATION AND CORRECTION
- The role of imitation
- Children sometimes make errors in producing words such as ‘gooses’, ‘goed’, ‘comed’, etc. Clearly, this cannot be due to imitation since children do not hear people say such words. Children have formulated rules in their minds, and construct such words on the basis of these rules.
- While imitation does play an important role in language acquisition, it is limited one – limited to certain aspects of speech production.
- The role of correction
- Correction is not and important factor in the process of language acquisition. While it used to be thought that correcting children’s speech is essential for improvement, research has shown that is not the case.
- In fact, children will naturally correct their own mistakes over time, without intervention of others