Development of Language

Some researchers consider that babies are predisposed to acquire language and point to both the skills that babies are born with and the universality of some aspects of language and language development as evidence.  Certainly babies arrive with certain skills and potentials, that means they are very sensitive to features of speech and language from birth and even in the womb.  No one teaches babies their first language in the ways that we teach them other things either at school or at home, but we do surround them with language as we talk with the baby and others.  We often talk very intimately with them about what the baby is doing and might be looking at or thinking about in everyday situations.

Adults and even quite young children make their voices more interesting when they talk with babies and young children – this highlights key language and grabs the child’s attention and helps the child to work out meanings and what phrases and individual words might refer to.  As the child grows older and begins to express their own meanings, these are treated as important and are responded to by adults.  Adults will encourage the child’s attempts by often repeating them and expanding them.  Consequently the child feels good about their own efforts and the value placed on them by the adult.  By hearing their meanings in a fuller form the language is modelled correctly and their understanding is reinforced.  This whole process was originally termed ‘motherese’ but has quite rightly been re-termed child directed speech or caregiver input and is documented in the literature and through research by Gordon Wells  and earlier writers such as Snow

Such behaviours are more instinctive than pre-thought out by adults.  However, we also know that when children have a difficulty, adults become more conscious of what they are doing and that this can interfere with their ‘natural’ responses.  This can occur both in homes and in schools, and may impede the child’s language development rather than support it.  Gallaway and Knight (2012) exemplify this as a potential problem for deaf children.

It is important to recognise that most children, when they start school, usually have acquired sufficient levels of language for this, then to be used as ‘language for learning’.  However, some children, whether deaf or hearing, may still need the sort of preschool conversational one-to-one experiences that promote language acquisition because of their language levels.  This is particularly the case where the child’s grammatical and vocabulary levels are delayed. Children cannot read or write things that are in advance of their linguistic competence.  Approaches to reading and writing must take account of the child’s linguistic level and next steps. 

For the individual child it will be important to track development and ensure language is accessible and involving the child at all stages.  It is not a matter of simplifying and dumbing down the input.  Teachers and families need to be receptive and inclusive ensuring the child is an active learner.  Within the home situation families will be able to work collaboratively with all involved agencies through their FSP (Family Service Plans) in schools these may be IEP, PP (Individual Education Plans/Pupil Profiles) or across all involved agencies EHCP( Education Health & Care Plans).