The Effects of Environment and Culture on Language Development Video

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  • 0:05 Examples
  • 1:53 The Behaviorist Perspective
  • 3:26 The Interactionist Perspective
  • 4:45 Language Styles
  • 6:20 Supportive Environments
  • 7:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Both environmental and cultural factors have an impact on early language development. This lesson will provide examples to consider and discuss possible reasons for this impact.

Experiences, Culture and Language Development

Imagine the following three children: Katie, Billy and Kim. First, let's meet Katie. Katie's environment is full of stimulation. She has two older siblings who interact with her regularly, and Katie's mother is at home with her during the day. They often go on outings together. Katie also attends an educational daycare program three mornings a week.

Now, let's meet Billy. Billy's environment is less stimulating. He's an only child, and his mother suffers from depression. No extended family lives in the area, and he does not attend a daycare program. Billy's basic needs are met, but he has very little interaction with others. Most of Billy's day is spent in front of a TV.

Finally, we are introduced to Kim. Katie and Billy are growing up in the United States, but Kim lives in China. Kim has loving parents and grandparents who give him lots of attention. He does not attend daycare, but time is spent teaching him daily at home, and he often interacts with other children in his neighborhood. Katie, Billy and Kim are all of the same age and ability, but their experiences and culture are different. Do you think that this might have an effect on their language development?

The answer to this question is yes! While we may not be able to completely predict future outcomes for each child, we do know that the rates and styles of language development and language acquisition will be different. Since most researchers believe that language acquisition is learned, the different environments and cultural circumstances will be a factor in their individual language development.

The Behaviorist Perspective

One theory that explains the impact of environment and culture on language development is the behaviorist theory. One of the main proponents of this theory, B.F. Skinner, proposed that language is acquired in the same way as any other behavior, through operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, learning is defined as changes in behavior as a result of experiences that occur after a response.

Skinner said that operant conditioning occurs in language development when sounds are made by a child and then reinforced by their parents' reactions. An example of this reinforcement would be an excited smile, hugs and attention whenever a sound resembling a word is made. This makes the child more likely to repeat the word and associate it with a corresponding object or event. This operant conditioning combines with imitation to allow rapid language development to occur.

Remember Katie? According to the behaviorist perspective, her language acquisition would look something like this: Katie begins babbling something similar to 'cawa-cawa-rrrr-caw-carrr-aaa.' She does this one day while watching her father pull the car into the driveway. Katie's mother becomes excited. She points to the car and says 'car.' Katie imitates her mother and repeats 'carrr-aaa.' Soon, Katie is saying 'carrr-aaa' every time she sees a car to get attention and begins to associate the word 'car' with the object.

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