How Children Acquire Pragmatic Knowledge about Language

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  • 0:01 Learning Language
  • 0:52 First Words
  • 2:35 Then Sentences
  • 3:09 Learning Grammar
  • 4:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

After watching this video lesson, you will know how children learn to speak. See how children first associate words with objects, progress to sentences and abstract thoughts, and eventually learn the rules of grammar.

Learning Language

This is Sammy. She is a little over one year old. She's just now beginning to say her first words. In this lesson, we will follow Sammy on her journey as she learns her first language. We define language as the way that humans communicate, either written or spoken. For Sammy, her language skills begin with spoken words. When she has become sufficiently familiar with her spoken words, then she can progress to writing and reading words in print.

The process of learning a new language for young children is quite amazing. These children go from not knowing any words to being very talkative and inquisitive little humans in just a few years. Who of us as older humans has tried to learn a new language? It's not so easy. But for little children, the process seems built in to their little brains, and they pick up their very first language or languages easily.

First Words

Look, here comes Sammy crawling towards her mother. She sees her mom and yells out 'Mama!' This was Sammy's third word. Her first word was 'ood' for food. Her second word was 'Dada!' for her father. Her first words were very simple. As she got a little older, she started to say what seemed like two-word phrases such as 'wansome' for want some and 'shone' for cell phone. Even though it seems that Sammy is using two-word phrases, in her mind, they are still single words. She still needs some time to realize that what she is hearing is a combination of words.

Most children begin their language acquisition journey with single words of their favorite things like Mama, Dada, cat, and ball. Some children though wait until they have acquired a bit more language skills before speaking. These children might wait until they have learned two-word phrases or even sentences before speaking. Their first spoken word or phrase might be 'I hungry.'

Now that Sammy is using single words, she is picking up several new words a day. She also asks her parents 'watdat?' for almost everything she sees. She wants to know the names of everything around her. She points to the apple and asks, 'Watdat?' Her mom tells her, 'It's an apple.' Sammy then points to an orange and asks, 'Watdat?' Her mom tells her, 'That's an orange.' Even though Sammy does not always repeat the word, she is building up her vocabulary. Children, on average, at this stage will pick up an average of 10 new words a day. Her mom notices that Sammy will all of a sudden say a word that she's never said before. Like one day when Sammy all of the sudden said 'milk.' This was a word that Sammy's mom would say all the time, but Sammy has never repeated it until that day.

Then Sentences

Sammy has been learning new words every day for a while now. She is now a little over two years old. She is now using short sentences like 'go outside' when she wants to go outside and 'I sit down' when she sits down. Sometimes, when Sammy is really excited and has a lot to say, she mixes all her words together. At this stage, Sammy is learning how to use her mouth muscles to speak words clearly. It takes some time, and she will mix words together until she gets better at controlling her muscles. As Sammy grows, she uses more and more sentences, and the length of her sentences also grows.

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