…they soak in information from the stimuli surrounding them. Between birth and 3 years of age, the human brain increases to 80% of its adult size. What a powerful fact. This is such a crucial point in development for children and therefore, it’s so important to foster their learning in this age period. Healthy interactions between a child and his or her environment is essential to developing strong communication skills that will last a lifetime.
The main purpose of a child’s linguistic environment is to provide information about the language they will learn. And who provides this information? The people who surround the child in everyday life: parents, guardians, babysitters, siblings, friends, etc.
Motherese is a term used to describe the way people (often mothers) speak when that speech is directed toward their infant. They use a higher intonation in their voice and speak slower. This infant-directed speech can help with communicative interaction but is not a necessity in the process of the infant’s language acquisition.
As long as there is language in the child’s environment, they will learn it without being explicitly “taught”. Drilling your toddler to learn words won’t make them remember and repeat them any faster. Also, children do not need to be rewarded or encouraged in language learning, nor do they need to be corrected when they say something incorrectly. I know this comes as a shock to some parents, but it’s true. Errors will naturally go away as the child gets older as long as people providing the input in the environment are using grammar correctly. In all honesty, some errors go unnoticed (we’re only human), so correcting only the ones you DO manage to catch can send confusing messages to the child. What does help is modeling correct language. For example if the child says, “Can you take my shoes off my foots?” you can simply respond by saying, “Sure, I’ll take your shoes off your feet.” Over time they will recognize that feet is the correct term to use.
In order to identify atypical development, you need to know the timetable for typical development. Here is a list of age ranges for typical speech and language development:
- Birth- 6 months: communication by smiling, crying, and babbling
- 7 months- 1 year: babbling becomes differentiated
- 1- 1.6 years: learns to say several words
- 1.6- 2 years: word “spurt” begins
- 2- 3 years: talks in sentences, vocabulary grows
- 3+ years: vocabulary grows
Infants pick up on the words being used in their environment, so it is important for the adults to choose their words wisely. Once the word spurt begins they really start repeating everything. During their preschool years, children acquire on average 4-8 new words every day! This means that by the time they are 6 years old they can have a vocabulary of 8,000-14,000 words! Reading to children at a very young age is a fantastic way to build vocabulary. It also helps to have discussions about what happens in the story, not just read cover to cover and put the book away. Reading can and should be an interactive experience, too.