FAQ: Language Acquisition | Linguistic Society of America
How do children acquire language? Do parents teach their children to talk?
No. Children acquire language quickly, easily, and without effort or formal teaching. It happens automatically, whether their parents try to teach them or not.
Although parents or other caretakers don't teach their children to speak, they do perform an important role by talking to their children. Children who are never spoken to will not acquire language. And the language must be used for interaction with the child; for example, a child who regularly hears language on the TV or radio but nowhere else will not learn to talk.
Children acquire language through interaction - not only with their parents and other adults, but also with other children. All normal children who grow up in normal households, surrounded by conversation, will acquire the language that is being used around them. And it is just as easy for a child to acquire two or more languages at the same time, as long as they are regularly interacting with speakers of those languages.
The special way in which many adults speak to small children also helps them to acquire language. Studies show that the 'baby talk' that adults naturally use with infants and toddlers tends to always be just a bit ahead of the level of the child's own language development, as though pulling the child along. This 'baby talk' has simpler vocabulary and sentence structure than adult language, exaggerated intonation and sounds, and lots of repetition and questions. All of these features help the child to sort out the meanings, sounds, and sentence patterns of his or her language.
When do children learn to talk?
There is no one point at which a child learns to talk. By the time the child first utters a single meaningful word, he or she has already spent many months playing around with the sounds and intonations of language and connecting words with meanings. Children acquire language in stages, and different children reach the various stages at different times. The order in which these stages are reached, however, is virtually always the same.
The first sounds a baby makes are the sounds of crying. Then, around six weeks of age, the baby will begin making vowel sounds, starting with aah, ee, and ooh. At about six months, the baby starts to produce strings of consonant-vowel pairs like boo andda. In this stage, the child is playing around with the sounds of speech and sorting out the sounds that are important for making words in his or her language from the sounds that aren't. Many parents hear a child in this stage produce a combination like "mama" or "dada" and excitedly declare that the child has uttered his or her first word, even though the child probably didn't attach any meaning to the 'word'.
Somewhere around age one or one and a half, the child will actually begin to utter single words with meaning. These are always 'content' words like cookie, doggie, run,and see - never 'function' words like and, the, and of. Around the age of two, the child will begin putting two words together to make 'sentences' like doggie run. A little later on, the child may produce longer sentences that lack function words, such as big doggie run fast. At this point all that's left to add are the function words, some different sentence forms (like the passive), and the more complex sound combinations (like str). By the time the child enters kindergarten, he or she will have acquired the vast majority of the rules and sounds of the language. After this, it's just a matter of combining the different sentence types in new ways and adding new words to his or her vocabulary.
Why did my daughter say feet correctly for a while, and then go back to calling them foots?
Actually, she hasn't 'gone back' at all; she's gone forward. When she used the wordfeet as a toddler, she was just imitating what she had heard. But now she has learned a rule for making plurals, which is that you add the s sound to the end of the word. So she's just applying her new rule to all nouns - even the exceptions to the rule, likefoot/feet. She'll probably do the same thing when she learns to add ed to verbs to make the past tense, saying things like he standed up until she learns that stand/stoodis an exception to the rule. She'll sort it all out eventually, but for now, rest assured that this is progress; it's evidence that she's going beyond imitation and actually learning the rules of the English language.
How can a child who can't even tie her own shoes master a system as complex as the English language?
Although the 'baby talk' that parents use with small children may help them to acquire language, many linguists believe that this still cannot explain how infants and toddlers can acquire such a complicated system so easily.
It's far easier for a child to acquire language as an infant and toddler than it will be for the same child to learn, say, French in a college classroom 18 years later. Many linguists now say that a newborn's brain is already programmed to learn language, and in fact that when a baby is born he or she already instinctively knows a lot about language. This means that it's as natural for a human being to talk as it is for a bird to sing or for a spider to spin a web. In this sense, language may be like walking: The ability to walk is genetic, and children develop the ability to walk whether or not anybody tries to teach them to do so. In the same way, children develop the ability to talk whether or not anybody tries to teach them. For this reason, many linguists believe that language ability is genetic. Researchers believe there may be a 'critical period' (lasting roughly from infancy until puberty) during which language acquisition is effortless. According to these researchers, changes occur in the structure of the brain during puberty, and after that it is much harder to learn a new language.
Linguists have become deeply interested in finding out what all 5,000 or so of the world's languages have in common, because this may tell us what kinds of knowledge about language are actually innate. For example, it appears that all languages use the vowel sounds aah, ee, and ooh - the same vowel sounds a baby produces first. By studying languages from all over the world, linguists hope to find out what properties all languages have in common, and whether those properties are somehow hard-wired into the human brain. If it's true that babies are born with a lot of language knowledge built in, that will help to explain how it's possible for a very small child - with no teaching, and regardless of intelligence level - to quickly and easily acquire a system of language so complex that no other animal or machine has ever mastered it.
For further information
Pecchi, Jean Stillwell. 1994. Child Language. London: Routedge.
Pinker, Steven. 1994. The Language instinct. New York: W.W.Morrow.
"Playing the Language Game." Program Two: Acquiring the Human Language. The Human Language Series. Videocassette. New York: Equinox Films, 1995.
Smith, Neil. 1989. The Twitter Machine: Reflections on Language. Oxford: Blackwell.
FAQ by: Betty Birner
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how do babies learn to talk?
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How do babies learn to talk? – Ella, age 9, Melbourne.
What a great question, Ella!
Babies are born ready to learn and although they don’t “talk” in the first weeks of life, they know how to communicate what they are feeling. They do this by crying. And it is something they do a lot before they produce words.
Babies begin to learn the rules of language as soon as the little bones inside their ears and connections to their brain have grown. They can hear the rhythm and melody of their mother’s voice for three months before they are born and this changes the way their brain develops.
The experience that babies get from eavesdropping on their mother’s conversations in utero helps their brain tune into the language that they will learn to speak once they are born.
Read more: Curious Kids: Can chimpanzees turn into people?
Have you ever heard someone talking to a baby with a funny voice that sounds almost like they are singing? People often use a higher pitch, speak slower and repeat what they say when they talk to babies.
Research from baby labs all over the world shows that adults help babies work out the sounds of language by using this special style of speech. Researchers call it infant-directed speech.
Scientists have developed different methods to test what babies like to listen to. We know that in the first year of life, babies turn their heads towards a speaker using infant-directed speech. Or they may suck on a dummy that will play recordings of someone who is using infant-directed speech instead of the flatter style of speech adults use to talk to each other.
This shows that babies prefer infant-directed speech to adult-directed speech.
Have you ever heard someone talking to a baby with a funny voice that sounds almost like they are singing? Research suggests babies prefer it. AJP/shutterstock
Using a sing song voice helps babies tell the difference between words like “mummy” or “daddy” because:
1) the higher pitch draws the baby’s attention to speech
2) speech sounds like “ma” and “da” are exaggerated, simplified or repeated. That gives babies a better chance at hearing the difference between them.
3) the affectionate tone of voice encourages infants to play with caregivers who draw attention to different words by speaking more loudly or slowing down their speech.
Learning a language
When babies listen to lots of speech, the connections in their brains are more sensitive to speech that is spoken in the environment around them.
So a baby who hears lots of Cantonese or Mandarin, for example, will learn that the difference in the tone of the speaker’s voice is important and can change the meaning of a word.
A baby learning English, on the other hand, will learn that the tone of a speaker’s voice does not necessarily have the same effect on meaning.
Did you know?
Parents who respond to their baby’s happy babbling sounds by imitating them or talking about the sounds they were making might be onto a good idea. Researchers found that this was linked to the baby making more complex sounds and developing language skills sooner.
Infants can understand many words before they can say them. Olena Yakobchuk/shutterstock
Infants can understand many words before they can say them. By nine months of age, babies can usually understand words like “bye-bye” and wave when somebody says it.
As infants get older, they babble more and their babble begins to sounds more like words than non-speech sounds.
By the time babies reach their first birthday, most infants have started to produce their first words. At one year of age, babies can usually understand as many as 50 words, and can say one or two words like “mama” or “dada”.
The story of how babies learn to talk is a fascinating one, Ella. It is amazing to think that you and I, and even your own parents were once little babies learning how to use language to communicate.
Read more: Curious Kids: Why do birds sing?
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Early Childhood Speech Development Calendar
Early childhood is considered a very important period in a child's life.
This is the time of the most rapid and rapid changes in the mental and physical development of the baby, the child takes the first steps, learns to speak, begins to use gestures and other means of communication.
3 weeks - 1 month - there is a cry indicating emotional discomfort, pain or hunger. With physical stress, the child groans, making the sounds "a", "e".
2 - 3 months : the baby has a cooing, he utters simple sounds - " a", "y", "s ", sometimes in combination with " g ". This is an important stage in the development of speech in young children.
4 - 6 months - makes high melodious sounds, sounds of exclamation, reacts with joyful sounds to the faces of loved ones.
6 - 9 months - babbling, he repeats the same syllables (“ma-ma-ma”, “ba-ba-ba”, “dya-dya-dya”, “gu-gu-gu”).
9 - 11 months - the baby begins to imitate the sounds of adult speech.
11 - 14 months - the first meaningful words "mom", "dad", "woman", "uncle" appear, from 8 to 14 words. Correlates a word with an object
By the age of 2 years there are 100-200 words in the baby's vocabulary. He is already building a sentence of 2-3 words.
By the age of 3 the volume of the dictionary increases to 1000 words by enriching the child's life experience. Simple prepositions appear: in, on, under, for, with, at. The child remembers poems, children's songs.
By the end of 3 years , most children are able to construct sentences grammatically correctly, conduct dialogues, tell what they have seen and heard.
Important to know:
Do not listen to advice from other parents whose children began to say after 3 years that the child will speak on his own. He will speak, the only question is what kind of speech it will be, its quality.
How to identify the signs of a speech disorder in a child?
By the end of 1 month the baby does not cry before feeding
By the end of 4 months does not smile when his mother talks to him, does not coo.
By the end of the 5th month does not listen to sounds and music
By the end of the 7th month does not react to the intonation of the voice, does not recognize the mother’s voice with a “revitalization complex” syllables for adults
By the end of 1 year the child does not wave his head when saying goodbye in denial. He does not utter a single word and does not follow simple instructions: “give”, “on”, “take”.
By the age of 1.5, does not show or name mom and dad, does not build a tower of blocks, does not differentiate sounding toys, does not use a pointing gesture.
By age 2 does not show body parts, does not show mom and dad in the photo, does not follow the two-step instruction (go to the kitchen and put the plate on the table)
By the age of 2.5, does not distinguish between “big and small”, does not communicate with children.
By the age of 3, cannot give his first and last name, tell a simple poem and a fairy tale.
If this does not happen, there is a reason to contact specialists.
Possible causes of speech disorders
Viral and endocrine diseases of the mother, threatened miscarriage, trauma, toxicosis, low hemoglobin level.
Genetic anomalies, hereditary predisposition.
Diseases borne by a child in the first years of life
Babies with low Apgar scores at birth
The exact cause of the disorders is determined by the doctor, and the type of speech disorder is determined by the speech therapist.
So what can parents do to improve speech development?
Speech is the highest mental function, so the period of intrauterine development of a child is very important. Parents need to take care of the development of speech even before his birth. It is important that the expectant mother receives only positive emotions i.
Communicate more with your baby! Goodwill, a soft and calm voice, grammatically correct speech is another important factor in the development of speech.
Often, children, using only a pointing gesture, get what they want. Teach your child to express his desires as fully as possible, say new words, sentences.
Do not scold your child for mispronounced words. This can provoke neurotic reactions. He will shut up, stop speaking and learning new words.
Develop your baby's ability to listen and pay attention. Play games with him that help him develop his ability to listen and hear: “Listen, what's ticking there? And what's that noise?" Let the baby learn to distinguish between speech and non-speech sounds (environmental sounds).
Teach your child fairy tales, poems, because memorizing them and repeating, he learns new words, trains memory and attention.
Important to know:
Speech disorders can be corrected - it is important not to waste time!
Author-compiler: Mikhnovich O. F speech therapist
How to teach a child to speak: methods, games and exercises
The formation of a child's speech occurs long before he begins to speak independently. From a very early age, the baby perceives the speech of adults, imitates it, and subsequently relies on the acquired experience. Speech development is not a process that can be left to chance - and in this article you will find out why.
Stages of speech development
10 ways to teach your child to talk at home
Exercises and games for the development of speech
When you need expert help
Stages of speech development
The formation of speech occurs gradually, starting from birth. Knowing the approximate stages of speech development at each age, it is much easier to determine the presence of signs of a lag.
0 to 6 months. The baby actively listens to the speech of adults, tries to reproduce the sounds that he still perceives as a melody. He already distinguishes the voices of people who are talking to him. First, the baby masters vowel sounds, and already closer to the age of one and a half months, the consonant sounds “g”, “k”, “x” appear, thanks to which the child begins to “walk”.
6 to 12 months. At this age, the child often imitates the sounds of adult speech. Pronounces separate syllables, for example "ma-ma", "babbles". By the end of the first year of life, the first words and sentences appear. Vocabulary ranges from 2-3 to 20 words, most of which are nouns.
1 year. In a year, speech becomes active and becomes a means of interaction with adults. Together with the ability to move independently, the child accumulates knowledge about the world around him and replenishes his vocabulary, which at this age is 300-400 words. Pronunciation adapts to itself, skipping or replacing complex combinations of sounds.
2 years. By the age of two, phrasal speech is formed. At this time, the child is able to formulate a sentence of 2-3 words. Gradually, grammatical categories are mastered, such as number, gender, case. The vocabulary reaches up to 700 units.
3 years. Children of this age actively communicate with adults and peers, but still with the help of simple sentences. A three-year-old child masters the basic laws of the language and, on their basis, invents his own words. This process is called "word-creation" and signals the normal development of the child's speech. Vocabulary - up to 1000 words.
4 years. In the fifth year of life, the child "hones" the acquired skills, replenishes the active and passive vocabulary, which is approximately 2000 words. As they grow older, the child begins to pronounce all the sounds of his native language clearly and clearly.
By the age of 5, it is considered normal if the child has mastered all aspects of the language and is fluent in speech. If not, this is a reason to immediately contact a specialist.
10 ways to teach your child to talk at home
The most effective and basic way is to talk to your child as often and as much as possible. Pediatricians recommend communicating with the child even before he is born. The speech of an adult should be expressive, as babies perceive it on an emotional level. It is possible to teach a child to speak at 1 year old by abandoning sign language and completely switching to verbal communication. Use short and clear sentences, do not distort words. Speak in such a way that the child can observe the movements of the lips and try to independently apply them to his speech.
Develop fine motor skills. Stimulation of nerve endings on the fingers has a positive effect on the development of speech. Any exercises that involve the motor skills of small muscles are suitable for this method: sorting through cereals, playing with massage balls, stringing beads on a string. (You can link to an article about developing fine motor skills by writing, for example, "Learn more here.") Fine motor skills classes will help to teach a two-year-old child to speak as early as possible.
Expand vocabulary. At home, on the street, in a store, in nature, show and call the child the names of the surrounding objects. To his questions in an accessible language, explain the meaning of certain objects, trying not to overload the child's brain with complex terms. This is a natural and inexpensive way to quickly teach your child to speak at 2 years old.
Read books. Children love to look at bright, colorful pictures. Read a book to your child, while pointing at the characters, for example, a bun, a fox, a hare. Simultaneous visual and auditory perception will help you remember words faster and learn how to pronounce them. Set aside time for this activity each day to develop this healthy habit in your child.
Sing songs. As much as books, children love songs. Sing along with your child his favorite songs, learn new songs that he will like. In addition to stimulating the speech apparatus, you will provide both yourself and your baby with a good mood.
Not understanding sign language. If your child often uses gestures, replacing words with them, you need to stimulate him to the opposite. Once again, when the baby points his finger at something, pretend that you do not understand him. Try to start a dialogue by asking leading questions, but do not bring the child to hysteria if he is not yet ready for this way of communication.
Take by cunning. When reading a well-known book, intentionally replace words, for example: "I'll sit on a stump, eat a pot (instead of" a pie ")". This technique will inspire your child to listen carefully to the speech, so that next time they can tell you how to do it right. The method is perfect for teaching a child to speak at 3 years old, since by this age children are actively interested in literary works.
Repeat one after another. As a game, repeat the syllables that he says after the baby, and then offer your own version. The child will be happy to join this activity and will try to give out even more new syllables.
Remove distractions. An incessantly running TV or computer with cartoons will drown out any of your attempts to enter into a dialogue. The child needs to hear the lively, clean, correct speech of an adult. To teach a child to speak at 4 years old, you should adhere to the time limits for watching cartoons.
Show attention. Drop everything when the child comes up to you to tell you something interesting. Listen carefully, ask questions, be surprised and show your interest in every possible way. This will stimulate the desire to share with you everything that comes to mind and that you want to tell. Mutual dialogue is possible and necessary even with a small child, because it will help you quickly learn to talk.
Exercises and games for the development of speech
Favorite activity for all kids. Aimed at the development of fine motor skills and, as a result, the formation of speech. Learn small rhymes with your child, for example, "Magpie Crow." Connect finger movements that your baby will be happy to repeat. Such games improve fine motor skills and help to teach the child to speak correctly.
The small muscles of the mouth in childhood need to be trained, as they may not be sufficiently developed. To strengthen them, daily articulation exercises are required. Sit with your child at the mirror to control the correct execution of the exercises. Follow the movements of the lips and tongue, showing the child an example for his independent work.
Exercises for the development of speech breathing
It is important to teach a child to breathe correctly, starting from the moment of his speech development. The air released by us during the pronunciation of speech is the source of sound. Many simple and easily accessible exercises are aimed at developing breathing, for example: blow on a dandelion, inflate a balloon, blow soap bubbles.
You can teach your child to speak with the help of music games. When children sing, the assimilation of sounds, syllables and, ultimately, words is easier for them. Musical games can be organized in several variations: with musical instruments (spoons, drum), songs with onomatopoeia of animals, songs with the simultaneous execution of simple movements.
There are a huge number of games and methods using didactic material. And almost all of them can be applied to the development of speech. The game "Magic Bag" is great for developing speech skills. Rules of the game: in the bag there are objects of various shapes and sizes. The child is invited to feel to choose an object and describe it. Pronunciation of the signs of an object reinforces speech, and also helps in the formation of initial mathematical concepts.
In the development of a child's speech, it is important to be guided by the general principle "Do no harm". It must be remembered that each child develops according to his own individual model and it does not always adapt to the described stages of development. We recommend adhering to principles that apply in general to the entire process of raising and developing children.
The principle of the game form. For a child of preschool age, the leading activity is the game. The more interesting the lesson is built, the more involved the child will be in it. Don't force me to play. Get interested instead.
The principle of mutual dialogue. Talking to children is not a waste of time, as it might seem at first glance. Bring the child to a dialogue, keep up a conversation with him, tell and listen carefully. Communication is the most effective way to teach a child to speak early.
The principle of problem acceptance. It is difficult to admit to oneself that the child has any problems. However, the sooner you start working on the bugs, the faster you will get the result. Do not be afraid to turn to professionals if you see that independent work does not bear fruit.
The principle of accepting individuality. Your child is already a separate person, even if he is just starting to stand on his feet. You should not compare him with peers who are already telling poems with might and main. Instead of criticizing, praise every achievement of your child and then he will definitely speak.
When the help of specialists is needed
When a problem is discovered and the right ways to solve it will help prevent further lagging behind the child. It is necessary to be patient, aim for a positive result and give your child a chance to painlessly enter the social world and learn to exist in it.
Reasons to start working on the development of speech together with a speech therapist, neurologist and other specialists:
after 8 months the baby does not respond to calls to him;
nasal voice appears;
there is not enough air to complete the phrase;
during a conversation there is increased salivation;
at 2 years old, the child speaks only in syllables;
At 3 years old, the child still tends to speak only in simple words;
at the age of 4, the sense of syllable was not developed and the words were distorted.
Children's development centers "Baby Club" have been helping parents in the development of children since 2000. Our mission is the harmonious development of the child and his formation as an independent person.