Factors Influencing Language & Literacy Development in Early Childhood

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  • 0:03 Language & Literacy
  • 0:20 Language Development
  • 3:45 Literacy Development
  • 6:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Kristen Goode

Kristen has been an educator for 25+ years - as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university instructor. She holds a doctorate in Education Leadership.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

There are many factors that can influence the development of both language and literacy in children between the ages of two and five. In this lesson, we'll discuss the difference between language and literacy as we explore the factors that influence the development of each.

Language & Literacy

Most parents would say they often think about the development of language and literacy in their children. So, what are the things parents need to look out for as children acquire an understanding of language and develop literacy skills? What are the factors that influence language and literacy development?

Language Development

Language refers to all forms of communication. This includes auditory language, such as speaking and listening, as well as written language, which involves writing and reading. Language can also include body language like facial expressions and other non-verbal movements that express meaning.

As young children are forming their own grasp on language, there are several factors that might influence development. Children between the ages of two and five are especially vulnerable to these influences, so it's important for parents and caregivers to be aware of them.

These factor include:

  1. Health and physical development: Illness can effect hearing which, in turn, will cause problems with understanding spoken language or other auditory cues. Hearing problems can, in turn, effect speech development. Children who are ill also lack enthusiasm to speak and communicate non-verbally. This can hinder development of language and communication. In addition to illness, physical development can influence language. Vocal cords and speech related facial muscles must be developed in order for a child to orally communicate effectively. Fine motor skills are also necessary to write or draw letters and symbols.

  2. Environment: It's important that developing children be immersed in a language rich environment. Children who are spoken to and read to are more likely to want to speak and learn to read. Social environment can be a hinderance to language development when there is a lack of example on which children can base their understanding of language and all that it entails.

  3. Cognitive ability: It's been suggested that there's a correlation between intelligence and early speech. Children who pick up on the language early show an increased level of cognitive development. They tend to develop early use of proper sentence structure and strong vocabulary. It should be noted, however, that children who are slow to develop language skills are not necessarily slow cognitively, as there may be other factors at play.

  4. Gender: Oddly enough, gender has been known to play a role in a child's language development. Around the age of two, girls tend to start developing language at a faster rate than boys. They begin to communicate more fluently, and understanding of the spoken language develops quicker. This is sometimes attributed to children's relationships or closeness to their parents.

  5. Number of siblings: Some doctors and scientists suggest that children who come from one-child homes tend to have a stronger grasp on the understanding and use of language. This is because there is no competition for the attention of parents or caregivers, and adults tend to communicate with single children in a more fluent manner, thereby setting a better example. Others argue, however, that the opposite is true. More siblings can mean more opportunities for language use, which can result in quicker and stronger language development.

  6. Motivation: If a child has no desire to communicate or understand the world around her or him, there will be a lack of language development. Until he sees the value and need for use of the language, development may be slow.

  7. Bilingualism: Children who begin the process of learning a second language early in life may develop their first language at a slower rate than expected. Learning of two languages at once can cause confusion in children who are not yet of school age. This confusion may cause frustration that affects motivation. Most specialists recommend that second language learning not begin until a child officially begins school (around the age of five or six).

Literacy Development

Literacy is all about reading and writing. It's the ability to purposefully use language in its written form. To be literate, one must be able to read and write. While there are many factors that influence the development of language, it's also important to make note of those factors that might help or hinder literacy development.

These factors include:

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Additional Activities

Language and Literacy in Early Childhood

Activity 1:

Children living in poverty are at a very high risk of slower language development. Research has shown that the linguistic richness of an early childhood environment not only improves linguistic ability in childhood but has a permanent effect in that language remains above the norm throughout life. You have been asked to develop an intervention for families in Head Start (a program for low-income families to help children develop more optimally) to help improve the linguistic stimuli in their early environment. You will be meeting with parents and making suggestions to them that will boost the linguistic stimulation in the home. In three to four paragraphs, describe your intervention. For example, discuss with the parents the importance of engaging children in spoken language (away from electronics) and the importance of reading to them every night.

Activity 2:

In the lesson you read that girls tend to develop language a little earlier than do boys. Do you think this is entirely biological, or could it be partly environmental? Discuss the differences in how boys and girls are socialized such that linguistic development in girls may be facilitated more. For example, do parents talk more to girls? Do they reinforce verbal behavior more in girls? Write a two to three paragraph essay on your ideas as to how socialization may contribute to earlier linguistic development in girls.

Activity 3:

Walk into any restaurant and you will see very young children watching television on an iPad or cellphone with earbuds stuck in their ears. This is not a scene that occurred a generation ago. While it undoubtedly leads to greater peace for the adults enjoying their meals, are there drawbacks to the ubiquitous use of electronics in young children where literacy is concerned? What experiences are the children missing as compared to children in previous generations (e.g., missed opportunities to hear high-level conversation)? What effect is technology having on language development overall (e.g., improving or harming it)? Are there any upsides to it (e.g., perhaps with educational programs)? Write a journal entry discussing your thoughts on this topic.

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