Early Language Development
- Babies are born with the desire to communicate and the innate ability to be able to
- Babies need language to learn and learn through language
- To be able to effectively participate within society you need to be able to use language effectively
Language Development in a 'nutshell'
In her book ‘Infants and Children’, Laura E. Berk (2005) explains that most researchers tend to agree that there is a sensitive age by which language can be acquired. It is well documented that the language and learning experiences in the early years of a child’s life (birth to two and birth to five) are considered to have major influences on learning and language development for the rest of a child/adults life.
Some researchers believe that language learning starts during pregnancy. While the majority of researchers agree that babies are born with the desire to communicate, and we are the only species that are born with innate language abilities that can be developed into a complex system of grammar and syntax etc.
Receptive and Expressive Language
Receptive language refers to language that is received by an individual. It is language that is ‘listened’ to and understood. The phrase ‘listened to’ can mean through aural and visual ways of communication, this includes sign language.
Researchers believe receptive language skills develop from birth through meaningful contexts and experiences, and through interactions with significant people in a baby's life.
Receptive language ability is a complex process. The process requires the ability to attend to a message, to be able to filter out sounds within the environment, to be able to ‘receive’ the information and then select relevant pieces of information from the message. Finally, an understanding of the information received is processed. There is much for a baby to learn! Allow your baby time to process each message and express the message at a level that is appropriate for them.
Expressive language refers to language that is expressed by an individual. It is language that is sent from an individual to convey a message. Language can be expressed through oral or visual ways of communication.
Researchers tend to agree that expressive language starts from birth. In its most basic form a baby needs a way to express their basic needs for reasons of survival. From birth a newborn cries to express hunger and tiredness, in the hope their message is received and their needs are responded to. Which are the beginnings of communication and interaction skills. Other non-verbal ways that babies start to develop and use are; tone of voice, body posture, gesture and body movements, facial expressions and eye contact where culturally appropriate.
The Communication Gap
While non-verbal ways of communicating start to develop from birth, Spoken Language skills start to develop, on average, anytime from twelve months of age to eighteen months. With a spurt in spoken language growth taking place about eighteen to twenty four months. Developing spoken Language ability is much more complex than developing receptive language abilities. The process involves understanding the concepts being communicated about and developing a vocabulary of these concepts. From the ‘bank’ of vocabulary that is available a selection of the correct words must be made, combine these words into meaningful phrases or sentences in the correct sequence, understand and use the correct grammatical rules, pronounce the words correctly to be understood and do all this while following the rules of everyday conversation, i.e. turn-taking and using the appropriate tone of voice for the conversation. This means there are more language skills for a baby to learn. It is no wonder they need to sleep for most of the day, what an exhausting task it must be trying to figure it all out!
With this understanding of receptive and spoken language development, you start to discover that there is a challenge for babies. Their receptive language and cognitive abilities develop from birth, however spoken language skills may not develop until eighteen months old, so there is a communication gap! Your baby understands what is going on around them from an early age and wants to share this with you, but has limited spoken language skills to be able to express themselves verbally and therefore be understood…how frustrating!
This is where signing can bridge this communication gap. The physical skills needed for a baby to sign develop much earlier than spoken language skills, which is very handy (pardon the pun). Signing combined with your baby’s already well-developed range of non-verbal expressive language skills plus the odd word here and there, can prove to be a successful communication combination.
Allen et al, (2003). Oral Language: Developmental Continuum. Perth: Rigby Heinemann
Beaver et al, (2001). Babies and Young Children: Diploma in Child Care and Education. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.
Berk, L.E. (2005). Infants and Children. Boston: Pearson
Kuiper, K. Allan, S. (1996). An Introduction to English Language: Sound, Word and Sentence. Bristol: Macmillan Press Ltd
Ministry of Education, (1996). Exploring Language: A Handbook for Teachers. Wellington: Learning Media.
Ministry of Education, (1996). Te Whãriki: Early Childhood Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.