Language development is the cognitive process that all human beings go through to learn how to verbally communicate using the language within their environment and use their innate linguistic skills to do so. Although this process starts at birth and continues until puberty, the most important period of development occurs during the first 4 to 5 years of a child’s life.

Language development is closely linked to cognitive and emotional processes and is initially accompanied by gestures and imitations which disappear almost as quickly as they develop. In light of this, there are two main stages:

Pre-linguistic stage:

In this stage, children play with their vocals using their sound organs and muscular sensations as well as vibrations and things they hear. They initially do it simply for their own enjoyment.

Later on, their sounds begin to take on meaning and are linked to things like needs, hunger, asking for something and getting someone’s attention.

Adults play an important role in this stage because children need to hear them speak and see their repeated actions while speaking (it is helpful to speak with them while eating, when they are being changed, etc.). It is important to keep in mind that it is never too soon to explain what we are doing to children even if they do not understand.

 Linguistic stage:

This stage is characterised by starting to use language and normally begins at about 1 year old.

 Language is acquired progressively in line with the following levels:

  1. Phonological level: emitting and perfecting sounds
  2. Semantic level: acquiring words with meaning
  3. Morphosyntactic level: forming sentences

Language initially begins with monologues or without speaking to be social. Children speak to reinforce their actions and to accompany something that they are doing. When there are other children around, there is generally a collective monologue.

Later on, language is then used to help make themselves understood and to socialise with others.

Linguistic Expression

At this age children continue to simplify adult words and eliminate the consonants l and r in words or they replace them with others: “bwue” instead of “blue” or they even eliminate consonants in long words altogether: “banana” becomes “nana”.

Although language development happens naturally when children interact with their environment, it is important to keep the following methodological strategies in mind for productive language development:

It is common to speak in childish language to younger children but that should be avoided and eliminated as they start get older. Some common characteristics of childish language include the following:

Around ages 3-4 it is important to stop using childish language. To do this, one should speak with more precision and clarity, one should encourage them to ask more open questions instead of questions with yes or no answers, make sure they understood everything after explaining it, etc. One should speak slower and with more intonation but not repeating the same way that they speak, use new expressions and words so that they can continue learning.

To correct the words that children say incorrectly, they should be lightly corrected instead of scolded or ignored. It is most effective to correct them indirectly by repeating the word they said incorrectly by using it correctly in a sentence. Laughing or joking with them about how they say things is also unhelpful for their development because they will then tend to repeat it to get our attention or get us to laugh again.

As a final recommendation, reading out loud to small children is not only one of the best activities for cultivating their language development but it also encourages their motivation, curiosity, educates their values and most importantly  creates a time for everyone to spend learning together.

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