Shaping A Child's Language Development

I recently attended a college graduation where I sat in the audience behind a cross-generational family. I could not help listening to the conversation between the family’s young daughter, her mother and her grandmother. This child was quite the talker, and often repeated what her mother and grandmother were saying to each other.

The situation became almost comical; I looked at the stranger to the side of me and chuckled when the child repeated “oh my gosh!’ in the same cadence and tone as her grandmother. At one point many people surrounding us burst into laughter when the child began repeating the master of ceremonies as he called the names of the graduates marching across the stage.  

Researchers and teachers now know that language acquisition begins at birth; as parents talk to their babies, using repetitive words and phrases, children gradually begin to learn language.  By about nine months, children can understand simple words and directions.

Additionally, language acquisition can be divided into two categories: receptive, the amount of words language the child understands by hearing, and expressive, the amount of words the child can speak.  Important to remember is that children develop receptive language before expressive language.     

Because of this process, parents and early childhood professionals have a responsibility to influence and shape children’s development by helping to influence their receptive language.  Here are some tips you can follow to enhance your child or student’s language development:

Turn off the TV.

Talk with children more often. According to Marina Krcmar, associate professor of communication at Wake Forest,  children’s programs such as Telletubbies do not teach children younger than 22 months new vocabulary, a common misperception.  Krcmar suggests parents and others should not depend on television to teach children language. Instead, they should actively engage children in the language learning process, acting as responsive language teachers.

Read to children daily.

This has become part of traditional childrearing and developmentally-appropriate practices in early education. One key to this practice is to read the same stories again and again, as it will enhance optimal language development

Reading to a child

Model appropriate language for children.

Parents and early childhood professionals are often amazed at the things children say or repeat.  As I observed at the graduation ceremony addressed earlier, the observed family’s grandmother acted surprised and embarrassed  when her two  year-old granddaughter repeated “oh my gosh” after she said it. However, as demonstrated through modeling methods, if a child hears a phrase over and over, she or he will learn it and will be repeating it in various settings, be it at a child care center, out in public or at home.  Thus, all adults need to be mindful and guard our words when young children are in our presence.

As parents and early childhood professionals we must take our responsibility for enhancing children’s language development seriously.  Learning more about the language acquisition process and following these tips from experts in the early childhood field can help us to achieve this important task. All and all, it is most important to remember that children will learn what they hear.

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Lauren Drakes, MS, is an Early Childhood Education Program Coordinator at Rasmussen College-School of Education. She heads the Early Childhood Education degree program at Rasmussen College in Pasco County, FL. Lauren has been in the field of early childhood education for more than 20 years. Her work experience includes teaching at an elementary school level, training early childhood program directors and caregivers, providing accreditation consulting, teaching the national Child Development Associate courses and Florida state administrator credential course. Lauren received her BA in Psychology from City College of the City University of New York and her MS in Early Childhood Education Administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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