Children’s Language Development

Children’s language development and second language acquisition Sandra Morales Texas Woman’s University Children’s language development and second language acquisition The paper investigates how children develop their cognitive and language skills in a context that is influenced by social and biological factors. The literature review discusses the Cognitive and Social Constructivism theories and their influence on the education field. In addition the author presents how children develop their language at different stages and how those stages influence the growth and development of a second language.
Language acquisition is one of the most important topics in cognitive development. In the study of language development it is necessary to consider all the factors that affect cognitive development and their influence on child development. Many theorists investigate how children acquire language skills and how heredity, environment, culture, and biological factors influence language development (Meadows, 2006). Rationale It has been said that language is a characteristic that establishes a difference between animals and humans.
It is the ability to communicate with others, transmit and receive information gathered through symbols, gestures, facial expressions or other ways to express thoughts that others can understand what has been said (Jones, 1972). What is language? According to Bochner (1997) language is a form of communication. It involves a system of signs and symbols that are used by a group of people to communicate. The symbols include but are not limited to written symbols and sounds.

The language may be diverse in different cultures in terms of how the symbols system is used, the formal properties of the language, and the way people use that language to communicate with others in the same culture. Every culture has its own language system. As a matter of fact all languages have four main components (Bochner, 1997): Pragmatics (use) – learn to use the sounds, gestures, words, and body language. Meaning (semantics) –understand the messages, represented in words, or written.
Rules (syntax and morphology) – use the grammatical system of the language, combine words to convey a meaning. Sounds – Are the words intelligible enough that others can understand them. Throughout this paper the author will discuss various theoretical perspectives associated with the language development of children at different stages of their development. Some scholars such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner and Chomsky have revealed common ideas between the language acquisition and the cognitive development that are being discussed in this paper.
The purpose of this paper is to present the process of how children develop their language through the lenses of those four theorists and their contributions in the early childhood field. In addition the reader will find information regarding how children learn and develop a second language and the implication during the development. The primary consideration about language development is immersed in a controversy concerning the roots of language acquisition, and how people communicate their thinking processes, feelings and ideas.
According to Meadows (2006) language development involves different processes that include but are not limited to physical, emotional and cognitive development. Having an understanding of the differences between individuals, their experiences and their contact with other adults and significant ones, will help to understand how the language is developed. All this provides the opportunities for growth and development in different areas that complement the life of the person. In relation to the development the contact and relation with others start influencing the baby in his mother’s womb.
During the gestational time the fetus can hear the voice of their mother, and other sounds (music, etc), and after their birth they can recognize the voice of others. In other words the learning process starts at early stages in child development. Literature Review Piaget Cognitive Constructivism Piaget’s main focus of constructivism has to do with the person and how they construct their knowledge. Piaget believed individuals must adapt to their environment, and develops as parts of the adaptation process to the environment.
According to Piaget, the individual needs to understand the information that they are receiving in order to be able to use it; they must construct their own knowledge (Powell, 2009). For Piaget, language development is internal mental processes controlled by developmental processes and is done individually, without the interventions of others (Agbenyega, 2009). As a result of mastering one stage, children will be ready to move, learn, and develop according to the expectations of the next stage. In regards to language development Piaget sees language as part of the cognitive development.
How children think determines when and what the child can speak. In addition Piaget, states that children’s talking abilities emerge naturally without any formal teaching by adults, however more sophisticated vocabulary require formal education and experiences with the language. During early stages of the development according to Piaget, words are related to schemas of actions related to the child and those schemas will later be incorporated into exiting schemas that will support future learning experiences. Through the process of assimilation and accommodation, children go searching for what Piaget called balance or equilibration.
Assimilation according to Piaget, is when the individual adds new information into their schemas. Accommodation is when individuals change their schemas to understand new information into their knowledge. Piaget states that children learn to construct meaning about the new information and through assimilating and accommodating that information into their schemas. During the equilibration the individual looks for information received that makes sense with previous information. When the children find that balance, they move again to a more comfortable stage where the information received makes sense.
According to Piaget, children pass through different stages in their development; going through these stages provides children with a constant acquisition of information that will increase and help to build new knowledge and understanding of previous information learned. The basic principle of assimilation refers to the ability of children to use what they already know to understand the world around them. In contrast accommodation refers to the process of changing mental structures to provide consistency with external reality. It occurs when existing schemas are modified for a ew experience. Both principles help children to develop and construct their thinking patterns and use it according with their needs (Agbenyega, 2009). He believed that the mind does not respond to stimulus and consequences, but grows and change over different periods of time. In other words the intelligence appears progressively through the repetitions of activities that vary in each stage of the development. Piaget’s four stages of development: Sensorimotor from 0 to two during this stage children discover the environment around them, using their senses and then acquiring the language.
Preoperational from two to seven years old: At this stage children develop language skills, however, they understand what they are saying but do not grasp totally what others have said. Here they distinguish pictures and other objects. Concrete operations from seven to eleven years old: At this stage children use their logical reasoning about things. Formal operations from eleven to adulthood: During this stage individuals use higher order thinking skills and abstractions to solve problems. Piaget’s stages of development are all about how children learn at different ages through their development.
Based on the individual, all go through the same stages during their development. Social Constructivism Vygostsky and Bruner Social constructivism is based on the social interaction between the children with significant others, such as parents, caregivers, peers, and teachers. Vygotsky framework involves the social interactions and culture as part of the language development. He discussed the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The ZPD controls what the children learn, also what he can learn and do when he is helped by others. According to Vygotsky the learning process is easier when others are involved.
Children may be asked to perform a task, students have some meaning of the task they need to complete, however, they may have difficult to do it. But with the adequate support to complete the task they will do it. Bruner’s theory of constructivism discussed the idea of learning as an active process where the learners are able to form new ideas based on their current and past knowledge. Jerome Bruner emphasized the importance of social interactions and explained that children develop language based on their contact with others as a result of educational processes (Bruner, 1960).
He discussed scaffolding and how the construction of knowledge is based on their existing knowledge acquired during previous development. Scaffolding refers to the knowledge of previous skills that provide support for the acquisition of new learning experiences. Bruner and Vygostky believed that learning processes are tied to this concept, and facilitate a student’s ability to build on prior knowledge. For these theorists, the influence of experiences is a basic ingredient in the language development. Chomsky naturalistic approach
Chomsky argues that language is a unique human ability. He discussed the innate abilities of children to learn the language. As a result, all children go through the same process to learn a language (Stark, 2008). He discussed the language acquisition device (LAD) that allows children to produce in consistent ways the use of their first language. In this framework, all languages use nouns, pronouns, verbs, and other grammar rules. In addition, Chomsky established that children learn language through means other than imitation; they do not always imitate mistakes made by others.
Chomsky maintains that it is necessary to have formal instruction in the proper use of language and grammar (Stark, 2008). Child language development When we speak about the communication process, we speak about the ability to receive and transfer information that other people can understand and mean something to others. Verbal and nonverbal forms are expressions that enhance the communication with others. The process of language development would be described as a continuous process that gradually changes during the individual development. As soon as after birth a process of communication begins.
Infants try to communicate with adults using sounds, cooing. Those sounds are an important step on the road of language development, leading to a future stage where children are able to use the language to communicate in complex ways such as using words and sentences to express their thoughts. Language development includes understanding and communication skills based on words, spoken and written forms. According to Meadows (2006) different theoretical models such as Chomsky stated that language is innate and just with minimal exposure the child could develop their home language.
The exposition to language pattern gives them the basic knowledge to learn the maternal tongue. The nature versus nurture perspective supports the point that when the child is exposed to a language, they will learn the patterns for that language naturally. In other words exposing a child to a language pattern will allow them to learn that language. However, the exposure to another language other than maternal tongue on a regular basis will provide with the pattern in that second language that the children will eventually learn, due to his exposition to the patterns and sound of that other language.
Studies conducted by Macilla (2011) reveals that the frequency of the exposure to a second language and the consistency will influence how well the children will learn and perform using the second language. From birth the children are preparing for speech as a way to communicate with others. They are developing their physiological and cognitive structures to learn how to talk. Children pass through different stages to prepare the pharynx and larynx to produce those sounds, related to a pattern of their language.
The native language of the child does not matter. They all move through the same stages using vowels and consonants to produce sounds that seem like words for the adults. The adults assign the meaning to the first sound that the babies produce. However, at the beginning there are just random patterns, babbling that later during the development will continue into repeating the letter combination until the children learn a way to communicate using those patterns previously learned. All children are born with an innate ability to communicate (Chomsky 2006).
As children grow language becomes an important tool to establish and maintain relationships with others. The nature of language includes the use of words, sentences and other grammar rules. It is important to understand the relationship between cognition and language development, in the context of prior knowledge and how experiences influence development (Wegerif, 2011). According to Bochner (1997) children move through these stages in learning to talk: Stage 1: Preliminary skills – Looking together, imitation, playing.
Stage 2: Pre-verbal skills – Performatives (broom, quack) Stage 3: First words – “dog” “car” “mum” Stage 4: Early sentences – “daddy’s car” “dog gone” Stage 5: Extending meaning – adding English morphemes, such as plurals Jones (1972) describes the stages in the development of speech as follows: Crying period – At birth, a newborns crying is the first vocal response to the environment around them. Vocal play period – Around the second month, infants begin to make different sounds. This production of sounds is an important step in the child’s language development.
A variety of sounds may be heard in any language, but from the phonetic elements of babbling, the language that the child hears is the language that he or she eventually will use as their first language. Eventually, they will learn and master the grammar rules of that language. Sound imitation period – This period has two phases. The first phase begins around the six months and is initiated by the child’s awareness of sounds he produces. Because he likes what is being heard, he continues the repetition of those sounds. In the second phase, the child imitates sounds that he heard from others, “echolalia. This stage begins about the ninth month. The first sounds that the child imitates are those which are familiar, mostly coming from parents or caregivers. At this stage is when language development makes its formal appearance. The child comprehends simple words, specific vocalizations that have meaning for parents and caregivers. Language acquisition period – Begins about the last month of the first year. At this stage begins the conventional sound pattern or close to one. The child says the first words in their native language. The child understands and responds appropriately to others verbally.
Between thirteen to eighteen months there is a slow growth of vocabulary. A language is based on grammatical structure, and that structure rests on rules that determine how to express thoughts. The three major components of language are: phonology (study of the smallest unit of speech called phonemes), syntax (refers to the rules to form sentences), and semantic (the meaning of words and sentences). Every language has its own particularities; however, every language has the same components, in which people learn how to communicate based on the structure of their own language.
To summarize how oral language is acquired, it is important to mention that the child moves through different stages during their development, in order to acquire the language and skills to be successful. Infants listen and very early begin to communicate their needs through the use of sounds and gestures. Toddlers use the language using simple sentences and asking questions. Young preschoolers used complete sentences to communicate. Theorists in language development discussed that a child produces sounds as a form to communicate with others.
Those sounds come from his or her adaptation to the environment around them and as a consequence of the reinforcement by others during the learning and developmental processes. According to Beller (2008) the reinforcement occurs primarily when the child hears the sounds and considers those pleasant sounds. When those sounds are imitated by the child and he or she is rewarded in any way that produce satisfaction, the act of repetition begins, and eventually those sound combinations and repetitions open the door for a more sophisticated way of communication until the proper use of language appears.
Learning a second language How children develop a second language has been a topic of interest since 1940 (Beller, 2008). Theorists discussed that learning a new language requires the use of existing structures that are supported by the first language. Language is a symbol for a social group. In many countries, people learn more than one language is associated with political issues. In many countries it is related to the level of education. To be considered educated in Europe, people have to know at least two languages. In the United States the second language is more related to immigrant issues.
Many children who come from immigrant families learn their parent’s language and English as a second language. In future generations English will become their first language. During the early stages of the development of the mother tongue is necessary. It is considered part of the intellectual ability, is the individual’s first contact with language from birth, and supports emotional and cognitive development. Through the development the child learns the structure of his or her first language and that helps them to come up with his or her interpretations of the events around them.
To master a second language according to Noormohamadi (2008) a child has to master his or her mother tongue. If the child does not master the first language, that will make the process of learning another language more difficult. When the first language is learned and the child has a total command of the language, the process of learning another language will be supported by the first language, and all the concepts and learning can be transferred to the second language. The environment around the child has great influence on the child’s vocabulary, skills, and general understanding of the language.
According to Vygotsky, social interactions between children and adults influence the acquisition of any language. Another aspect to consider during the child’s language development is the concept of nurturing. This concept is totally related to the social interactions. Nurturing bring up the issue of the relationship between the child and other adults. Children who are attached to their families are more likely to communicate for longer periods, and this helps their communication and language development.
The amount of time children spend talking to others will improve their language skills. It is important to mention that each culture has standards of conversations between children and adults. Many cultures such as western cultures see children as conversational partners, promoting the verbal development of the child. Other cultures such as Hipic culture do not discuss events or problems with their children. In these cultures children are not allowed to be active participants in adult conversations.
Variations in social-cultural beliefs are aspects to consider in the development of a second language Oades-Sese (2011). The influence and relationship with others, within the same cultural values and language is significant and will add positive reinforcement to how the child learns and develops through his life. Based on Piaget’s theory children learn and develop by organizing their experiences into schemas that helps them to understand the world around them. Those schemes are related to two important concepts in Piaget’s theory, adaptation and assimilation.
During development children assimilate new information into the schemas that they already have, accommodating the new information into their mental structures. This process continues until the children learn the new information and come into a stage of equilibrium. For those children who are learning a second language the knowledge of their first language helps them in the acquisition of the second. All languages have their structure integrated by sounds, letters, grammar rules, and other factors that help the learner to acquire the language.
The structure of each language contains variations such as alphabet, pronunciation, specific rules based on that language, but in general the similarities in structure facilitate the acquisition of the second language because using the knowledge in the first language helps make connections with the second language. Therefore the learning process is easier for the child. Conclusion The combination of the theories presented in this paper provides the author a new perspective regarding language acquisition and development in early childhood.
Each theory supports Piaget, Vygotsky, and Chomsky frameworks based on observations and their studies on how children develop the language. However, each theory can blend to show how a child develops language and which methods can be used in order to reinforce the acquisition and retention of the first and second language. Each theory discussed helps to explain the process of language development, from Piaget’s cognitive constructivism which emphasizes a child’s ability to reason and construct his or her own knowledge, based on the individual experience, to Vygostky’s social influences and interactions to Chomsky’s nativism approach.
All of these theories interpret language development differently. However, of all theories discussed throughout this paper it is the author’s belief that social interactions are the most helpful approach to understand how children develop language. Biological and environmental factors are necessary in order for a child to learn the language and develop the language. Moreover, the child’s interaction with others influences the acquisition of the language. It is important for the child to interact with others in order to learn the pattern of the language.
Language development is a long process influenced by biological, family, and environmental factors that contribute the growth of the child in all aspects of their development including of course, the language acquisition. In order to learn another language, researchers such as Bruner, Vygotsky, Piaget, and Chomsky discussed the importance of learning and mastering the mother tongue. It is necessary to learn the grammar rules of the first language to use that knowledge to transfer the concepts learned into the second language. However, is a long learning process that starts after birth and continues through the child development.
According to Mancilla-Martinez (2011) who stated that children need to continue having formal instruction in order to develops proficiency in the first language and have formal instruction in the second language. For some immigrants’ children born in a foreign country or even those who were born in the United States to immigrant parents, school is the first formal exposure to English language. This group will eventually come a large portion of the society needs the support of formal instruction to learn and develops the proficiency on the second language.
To become proficient in the English language does not require parents use of English at home; however, to develop proficiency in the first language the instructional support and use of the language at home is necessary. It is necessary to be aware of the increments of this population and the particularities of each culture in order to support the language development (Mancilla Martinez, 2011). Many factors are associated with language development; most of them are associated when children begin attending primary grade levels, this is when the use of more sophisticated vocabulary is introduced.
The students need to learn the higher level of language in order to become proficient in the second language. Even learning the mother tongue, children need to learn more scholarly vocabulary and grammar rules appropriate for their age and to understand these when they encounter them in textbooks. When children come from homes in which a language other than English is used lead the proficiency in that language. Understanding the patterns of the first language is essential to developing effective programs to facilitate the study and acquisition of a second language.
This fact is applicable for all levels of study of second languages. Therefore the educational systems should support the study and application of this in the teaching of second language. Mastery of the first language is a vital factor in the progress to study and acquire fluency in other languages. Its acquisition is a basis and support for all other languages studied throughout one’s lifetime. References Agbenyega, J. (2009). The australian early development Index, who does it measure: Piaget or Vygotsky’s child? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 34(2), 31-38.
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Oades-Sese, G. ; Li, Y. (2011). Attachment relationship as predictors of language skill for at-risk bilingual preschool children. Psychology in the Schools, 48(7), 707-722. doi: 10. 1002/pits. 20583. Piaget, J. (1928). The child’s conception of the world. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Powell, K. ,, and Kalina, C. (2009). Cognitive and social constructivism: Developing tools for an effective classroom. Education, 130(2), 241-250. Wegerif R. (2011). Towards a Dialogic Theory of How Children Learn to Think. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 6(3), 179–190.


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