Language Development & Use in Adolescence

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are someone who works with adolescents or has an interest in linguistic development, it can be important to understand language development. This lesson goes over some of the most important aspects of this topic.

Adolescence and Language

Sharon has been teaching English at the high school level for seven years. She loves the creativity she is allowed to bring to her curriculum and instruction, and she is very good at forming strong and meaningful relationships with her students.

Lately, Sharon has become more interested in learning about how her students' language development, or growth and change in their use of, and relationship to, language is unfolding. While Sharon knows a lot about other aspects of adolescent development, she thinks a better understanding of language, specifically, will help her meet her students' needs.

Sharon knows that on a neurological and cognitive level, her adolescent students are becoming increasingly capable of abstract thinking, thinking about topics that are intangible, or questions that do not have simple right and wrong answers.

At the same time, she thinks it is important to remember that her students are still growing frontal lobes, the portion of the brain that is responsible for decision making and executive function. Sharon wants to better understand how these aspects of development impact her students' language.

Speaking and Listening

First, Sharon starts thinking about her students' oral language, meaning their speaking and listening skills. Sharon learns that adolescents are capable of listening for a longer time than young children, but that they benefit from visual accompaniments to the language they are listening to.

Sharon knows that for deaf and hearing-impaired students, the same is true about their ability to interpret signing. She also knows that listening can easily become a time of passivity for adolescents, who might be disaffected by the adult world. Therefore, when she works on listening exercises with her students, she ensures that they have relevance to her students' lives, peer relationships, and passions.

Sharon understands that the speaking or signing skills of adolescents will depend significantly on their previous exposure to education, and language-rich experiences. As a rule, however, she learns that adolescents are capable of acquiring a complex vocabulary and using this vocabulary in their spoken expression. She also knows that adolescents have a tendency to use abbreviations when they are speaking and that disruptions to their emotional well-being and self-esteem can get in the way of their capacity for oral expression.

Sharon thinks about her adolescent students. She knows that she sees them talking to each other and listening carefully to make plans and connections with one another. She also sees them whispering in class to share social news and come to a better understanding of the material.

Adolescents use language in so many different ways.

Reading and Writing

Next, Sharon starts thinking about written language, or how adolescents can develop their capacity to read and write. She knows that her students vary a lot in their reading abilities and that this is a normal aspect of adolescents. Most typically developing adolescents, are capable of decoding text fluently, and their reading work is more centered around comprehension.

These students tend to be stronger at comprehending fiction than nonfiction, and they are becoming increasingly capable of making deep and detailed inferences about, and connections between, the books they read.

Adolescents are also becoming more sophisticated as writers. Sharon knows that many of them do their strongest writing when they write from personal experiences. Their written language is often very well developed and long, but their executive function development might make their writing seem scattered and disorganized to the adult observer.

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