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How children acquire language

how children acquire language
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We’re now going to take a deeper look at how young children acquire language. In this video, education consultant and writer Tracey Chapelton talks about how young children acquire language. She also talks about current research that highlights the benefits of children learning an additional language when they’re very young. She then goes on to explain why young children are so successful at picking up an additional language. After watching the video, we’ll get you to look back at the responses to the statements about child development to see if any of your opinions have changed. We, as babies and young children, acquire language through being exposed to it.
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We are surrounded by adults who speak the language or other people in the family who speak the language for a purpose, who use the language for a purpose. And they interact with us in playful ways using language. And so we acquire it in a very natural way through hearing it. And for example, just thinking of the game of peekaboo– when a mother plays a game of peekaboo with the child, there’s a whole lot going on there. It’s more than a game. The baby is hearing the way English, or the language, sounds, is possibly learning about what that means– peekaboo, that mummy disappears, then she comes back– and also learning the structures of the language.
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Because by playing over, and over, and over again, that language is being hardwired into the baby’s brains. And Early Years advisor Julie Fisher says that babies begin to understand about twice as fast as they speak. So understanding is key to language acquisition. Being exposed to the language is key. And on that note, looking at a study carried out by associate professor Meredith Rowe in 2012, she found that a child’s vocabulary was influenced at 30 months by the language that they had heard a year before. And again, at 42 months, the language was influenced by the sophisticated language that they’d heard a year before.
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And likewise, again at 54 months, their vocabulary and language was influenced by what they had heard the year before. And so this study was quite conclusive, and children need time to process language. And that might involve going through a silent period just to understand what’s going on, and to tune into the sounds of what they’re hearing, and to make sense of the language they’re hearing.
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Dr. Patricia Kuhl says that by 3, a child’s brain is twice as active as an adult brain. So we’re talking about taking advantage of this very active period in the child’s brain. Not only that, current research in brain imaging technology has proven that the relationship between a child’s exposure to a language and their brain development is interdependent. So when a baby is born, their ears are open to all the sounds of every language in the world. And then as these neural pathways are strengthened, according to what languages they are exposed to, these neural pathways either are strengthened or they weaken and die off.
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So essentially, learning a language or an additional language at a very young age has the advantage of– the child is tapping into their natural abilities to hear the sounds of another language. And also I would say that when they’re very young, they’re not thinking about the language. They’re just hearing it naturally, and it’s a tool for them. It’s a means of communication, so they’re not affected by thinking about whether it sounds silly or if it’s used in an authentic way. So they’re not inhibited.
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Very young children love playing with sounds. They love hearing new sounds. And when they hear a new song, they like to join in. They move their bodies to the sounds, so they enjoy rhymes and songs. They enjoy the rhythm of a song or a chant. So they’re naturally drawn to this. They’re fascinated by language, and they’re not afraid to play with language. So they have the advantage of, for example, saying all the sounds that an animal makes, or the sounds in the forest, and the sounds that they hear around them, and the sounds of new words, and unfamiliar words from an unfamiliar language to them– they’re not afraid to play with that.
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Whereas, perhaps, older learners or older children might be more inhibited and thinking, why am I doing this? This is silly. Young children are just having fun. And they’re also not afraid to repeat things. And so this constant repetition of language really helps them hardwire their brains to remember structures, and language, and vocabulary sounds, pronunciation. And so they’re doing all of this in a playful natural way and really building the blocks for future language learning success.

In this step, education consultant and writer Tracey Chapelton talks about how young children acquire language.

After watching this video, you will have now heard Catherine Stewart and Tracey Chapelton speak about child development and how children acquire language, and you will have seen interviews with parents, educators, and people who grew up with more than one language themselves, talking about how they think young children acquire or learn languages.

  • Think back to your earlier responses to the statements about child development and learning.
  • Have any of your opinions changed?

Share your answers with us below.

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English in Early Childhood: Learning Language Through Play

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