A variety of factors can influence language development in children. The relationships parents and caregivers have with a child in the early years of his or her life play a significant role. In addition to these influences on a child's language patterns, the school environment also has an impact. One way teachers can foster language development is by creating an environment in which children are allowed to interact socially and engage in conversations with each other. They can avail themselves of a wide array of children's literature that can serve as a language model for children to promote classroom conversations and reading comprehension. A number of strategies can be used to work with students experiencing language and speech difficulties, as well as students who are learning English as a second language.
Keywords Emotional Skills; English as a Second Language (ESL); Gesturing; Language; Language Skills; Literacy Skills; Morphemes; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; Oral Language; Phonological; Recast; Semantic; Social Skills; Syntactic; Vocabulary
The ability to acquire and develop language skills is a capacity that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Language enables us to understand our emotions, to exchange ideas, to study the past as well as contemplate the future (Caulfield, 2002).
There are three basic components to language: phonological, semantic, and syntactic. The phonological component refers to the rules for combining sounds. The semantic is comprised of rules for combining the smallest sounds, or morphemes, into words and sentences. The syntactic are the rules that enable children to further combine words into sentences that express meaning. These components are normally developed and used together in social situations (Pullen, 2003).
Language Development in Infants
The development of oral language comes to us naturally and, according to Caulfield (2002) it is apparent that we are born to speak. While children do not normally begin to form their first words until they reach 10 or 12 months, studies have shown that humans are designed to speak even before birth. It appears that language recognition begins before a child's birth. By the 6th or 7th month of gestation, the fetus is able to respond to sounds; a mother's voice can be heard and the fetus can detect slight differences in sound patterns (Caulfield, 2002).
Once they are born, children begin to acquire language skills through their interactions with parents and care givers. These very ordinary situations afford children the time to develop and practice their language skills. Further, these interactions enable children to begin making social connections and to make sense of their world. Before they are even able to speak, however, young children usually communicate with gestures in the first 9 to 12 months of life. Initially children begin to point to objects in their environment. Gestures allow children to communicate since they have not begun to form and develop words. As they begin to do so, children combine gestures with words and this further allows them to develop two-word combinations. Essentially, gesturing enables a child to develop words (Iverson, 2005).
Although they do not actually teach their children how to talk, the involvement of adults and the general environment and culture in which a child is raised does affect a child's ability to learn and develop language skills. Further, this development usually occurs in a sequence of events that is common to most children. Therefore, it can be said that language development occurs because of a combination of nature and nurture. By the time a child is born, he or she has already begun to recognize language and is quickly able to listen to the voices of parents and caregivers. This can be seen by the fact that newborns look at faces of caregivers when they speak. Moreover, newborns quickly learn to get attention from their caregivers by crying. Crying, however, is not merely a way for newborns to convey that they need attention, that is, feeding or changing, crying is also the beginning of a child's ability to acquire and develop language (Caulfield, 2002).
While parents may be able to eventually determine what their infants are trying to communicate through crying, it is more important that these initial interactions provide parents and caregivers with an opportunity to assist children with acquiring language skills. This is because children tend to use words and phrases that parents and caregivers use in these situations. However, this does not mean that children merely learn to speak by imitating adults. Further, children normally do not begin to use meaningful words until they reach their 11th or 12th month. As they do acquire basic vocabulary, a child's interactions with caregivers provide an opportunity for practicing word usage.
Not only do children begin to develop language skills by interacting with adults, children also begin to develop an ability to interact socially. This is important because a child's ability to develop language and social skills during this time will manifest itself at school age. Therefore, the early development of language skills can affect a child's academic progress. The environment in which a child is raised is related to his or her ability to develop language skills in a number of ways. For example, an adult's ability to use language will influence a child's language development and speaking skills. Adults who have strong oral communication skills will have a positive impact on a child's ability to develop language skills. Moreover, as children begin to utter words, parents and caregivers can assist a child's development by repeating what the child says. These interactions are also called "recasts" (Dockrell, 2004).
In these instances, not only can an adult reply to a child by copying his or her words, parents and caregivers can also provide more information and word phrases that the child will begin to repeat. By making baby talk, parents enable a child to develop language skills. By repeating what a child says, adults also are telling the child that he or she is being listened to, that their words have meaning, and that what they are saying is important to the parent. The benefit here is that the child will be encouraged to continue using words and interacting with adults. This, in turn, will give them confidence in developing their emotional skills as well as their social skills. If a child is raised in an environment that is more orally stimulating, the ability to develop language skills is enhanced. At the same time, a less stimulating environment can adversely affect language development. In addition, in homes where a foreign language is primarily used, a child's ability to develop English language skills will affect his or her social and emotional development.
In addition to the environment in which a child is raised, there are also other factors that can influence the development of language skills. For example, children can experience difficulties acquiring and developing language skills as a result of physiological or psychological problems. Some children might experience delays in developing language skills, and these at times might be the result of a problem with the child's hearing. Other children may experience speech problems such as stuttering or an inability to articulate words properly. Whatever the causes of such problems, children who experience difficulties with language skills at an early age can also experience other learning difficulties once they reach school age. Differences in the environments in which children are raised, and other issues affecting the development of language skills will ultimately affect a child's capacity to further develop language skills and to acquire literacy, emotional and social skills as they are exposed to other social environments.
A child's ability to develop oral language skills will affect his or her ability to learn upon entering more formal education environments such as a day care, pre-school, kindergarten and primary school. In particular, developing language skills is related to developing other literacy, communication and social skills. This includes the ability to listen, speak, read and write. Teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching children who have been raised in a number of different environments and cultures. Since the language abilities of children vary, teachers are required to not only address the needs of individual children, but also to develop teaching methods that will benefit the class and foster...
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