How Do Children Learn to Talk?

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson discusses how children learn to talk from the time that they are born until they begin using full sentences. The child begins communicating by crying, then starts babbling, saying single words and then they learn to string words together.

The Growth of Language

When little Kristie started talking, her parents wanted to hear her say new words constantly. They pointed at different items wherever they were to see if she could say the word. As she grew, the little girl began making attempts at sentences. She would say things like, 'Mommy dirty!' because she didn't like the mess she made when she ate. A little later in her development she added a little to that sentence and said, 'Mommy, I dirty!' It took until she was about three years old before she would say, 'Mommy, I'm dirty!' Her parents thought that through continuous practice and trying to teach her the right way to say things, they were teaching their daughter how to speak. But were they right?

Imitation Versus Universal Grammar

Linguists, the people who study language, have long debated whether children learn to speak due to imitation (learning) or from some other process. Of course, there is learning involved with speaking. A child has to understand common vocabulary, but they also have to learn how sentences are structured. So the debate is about whether children learn how to structure sentences from listening to their parents, or if there is some innate (built in or inborn) ability to structure sentences.

How Language Acquisition Progresses

Children start by making sounds when they are very small and they see the reaction these sounds produce from their parents. As a child such as Kristie progresses through her first year, they are learning how sounds are made and what sounds they can make. Every child tests their language abilities by imitating what they hear from their parents and by just making random sounds to see what they can do. This leads to what is known as babbling. Because it is generally unintelligible to adults, parents may think that this is not language. But, babbling is rudimentary language. Children are learning about stringing sounds together, inflection and nonverbal communication. It may also seem that some children can communicate with others who are the same age with this babble.

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