Language Acquisition Attests

to Our Humanity.


Growth In language is a process in every kindergartener's life.

Our capacity for language acquisition sets us apart from others in the animal kingdom.

All parents listen to their children's talk. They listen to how their friends' children talk. If they have more than one child, they compare the language development of one sibling to another. Whether conscious or not, the listening results in a sense about whether or not language is progressing in normal fashion in the child in question.

If they doubt the progress, they may ask family members, friends, and the family physician to help them determine if intervention is warranted.

Late talkers are the children who provide the most angst for their parents. No-one seems to know why they speak later.

Parents want to know if their child is simply delayed in speech or if a disability is surfacing. If hearing is normal and other signs of intelligence are in evidence, it may just be a case of lack of need to speak. Older siblings and parents, in their helpfulness, relieve the child of the need for expression. If it is clear that the child understands what is said to her, there is little cause for intervention. The receptive component of speech is active. The expressive component will follow in due course. Other factors may be at play, as well.

My son was a late talker. His older sister was an early
talker. She constructed sophisticated sentences at three
years, three months. One day, as we were driving to the
down-town core to shop, she said, "I didn't realize that there
was a building like that on this street corner." She under-
stood all of her 21-month-old brother's pointings and grunts
and spoke for him. With such a helpful sister, what need
was there for him to express himself beyond that? When
he did burst into speech several months later, he was a
virtual talking machine. This experience compares well
with other parents of late talkers.

If there is marked contrast in development to that of the peer group, it may reflect a serious problem. In that case, it's best to seek professional evaluation and advice.

The frequency of occurrence of children who talk late but who go on to do well in school and college is more common than might be suspected. The documentation of cases is incomplete because it is a transient phenomenon.

Once the child begins talking, it is almost as though it never happened. As a result, late talking never gets fully investigated and documented.

The disorder resolves naturally. Perhaps that's a good thing. Language development intervention might create more problems than resolution.

Linguistic specialists indicate that each child reconstructs the sentence-generating rules of the target language. The rules are learned informally.

The manner in which we use the language is based on the quantity and quality of speech presented in the home and in social interaction. First, the general rules are determined and used until the point of readiness for adding exceptions to the rule is reached.

Kindergarten children rarely listen to what they are told to say. Their language acquisition processes keep them bound to what appear to be ungrammatical preferences. They do this until they are ready to express themselves in grammatical form.

While doing so, they recognize incorrect expressions on the part of the parent. They even attempt to point it out and correct the parent. When they do, they often use the same incorrect form they are attempting to correct.

For instance, many children have difficulty saying caterpillar. These children seem to treat the word as a compound word and reverse the order. To them, a caterpillar is a pillarcater.

So...when in the back yard, with his son, Dad sees a caterpillar and says, "Look, Greg! There's a pillarcater!" Greg will look at Dad and say, "No, Dad! It's not a pillarcater. It's a pillarcater!"

Greg's message demonstrates recognition of a wrong entry on Dad's part. His attempt to correct it is done emphasizing his yet unassimilated form of caterpillar.

Young children over-apply a rule until they are ready to use exceptions to the rule. This is most noticeable to you when your child talks about actions or events that happened yesterday. The ending "-ed" is added to the action words to show that the event took place in the past:

She danced
He played
She laughed.

Until the readiness stage for exceptions to the rule is reached, your child is likely to say,

He throwed up all over the car.
She hitted me with a stick.

In fact, your child may even double up on the past tense marker, saying,

He runded faster than me.
Daddy singded me a song. 

In the same way, we add "-s" when we mean more than one. That "-s" (shoes) is not to be confused with the apostrophe “s” we use to show ownership (Billy's shoes).

Over time, each child understands and uses the rules that govern how sentences are constructed. Every language has its own set of rules.

A Punjabi speaker, when learning English, is likely to apply the rules of Punjabi to plurals in English. In Punjabi, it's considered redundant to use the plural marker "-s" when a distinct number precedes the noun:

Two dollar.
Five candy.

In English, it's an error if the noun is in the singular form when the plural form is required.

These over-applications of a rule, or mistakes, if you will, are clear evidence that your child is thinking about language, the development of language, and the rules for sentence construction. These mistakes will be sorted out over time.

What do you do to assist your child through the language development process? Quite simply, don't correct your child or insist on the proper form. It's not likely to do any good. What is more beneficial is to repeat what your child says, using the appropriate form, and leave it at that.


Respond to what your child says, not how he's saying it.


Research indicates that children who are corrected frequently end up speaking a lot less. Best to respond by repeating the correct form and leaving it at that.

It's clear that for language facility to develop, each child re-creates the grammar for any given language. It is also clear that no parent sits a child down for speaking lessons or lessons in grammar.

If these statements are true, how do you ensure that your child is adequately prepared for the language competencies that enhance school learning? How do you help your child gain language skills?

Can you encourage language acquisition in your child? Absolutely!

The amount and kind of language your kindergarten child hears has a direct influence on her rate of language development. Language acquisition is also influenced by how you respond to your child.

Children whose communications are given due consideration are more likely to develop language faster than those who are given scant or no response. Ask your child to tell you more. Ask your child, "What else happened?" Show interest in your child's communication. Maintain eye contact, just as you would with an adult. Have patience as your child formulates answers to your questions and makes self-corrected attempts to express himself clearly.

Parents have the responsibility to nurture the gift of communication in their children.

What are the typical characteristics in language development in your 4- or 5-year-old?

Your kindergartener understands most of what is said, at homeand in the classroom. 

Communication is easy between your child and other children,as it is with most adult acquaintances and relatives.

Your child can pay attention to stories and can answer questions based on them.

Your child can stick to the topic when she tells a story or tries to explain something. The events follow a sequence that is understandable.

Some speech sounds may not be fully developed. Some or all of the following sounds may not be fully enunciated:  /ch/, /j/, /l/, /r/, /s/, /sh/, /th/, /z/. However, the words in context are easy to understand.

How can you encourage language development in your child?


First and foremost, child language acquisition is nurtured when you acknowledge your child's communications. It is enhanced if you give your child your full attention.

If the communication is a request, fulfill it if you can. 

If you can't, make sure to get your child's full attention
when you give an explanation that the request can't
be granted on the moment. Follow through on the
deferral, if that is appropriate.

Allow time for your child to process the information
given and to respond to it. 

Vocabulary growth is an essential language acquisition activity. Build on your child's vocabulary. Introduce new words. Provide definitions. Use the levels of meaning in sentences understandable to your child.

A recent, forwarded e-mail -- the kind we don't mind getting -- had the heading, Kids Say the Darndest Things. Among the many stories was this:


James, (age 4) was listening to a Bible story. His dad read: "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city but his wife looked back and was turned to salt."

Concerned, James asked: "What happened to the flea?"


James' experience was limited to the insect.

To help develop vocabulary, use the class name, vehicle, when riding in the car. The simplest definition of vehicle is: it takes you from one place to another. Given that definition, ask your child if the car you are riding in is a vehicle.

Ask your child to identify other vehicles. The most obvious should be identified by your youngster (car, truck, bus, train, plane). Then ask if a bicycle, a tricycle, a wagon, a scooter, and a sled are also vehicles.

What about tools? A tool is an implement that helps you do a job. In addition to the more obvious ones, such as a screwdriver, a hammer, a wrench, ask about those we don't normally think of as tools: pen, pencil, eraser, ruler, crayons, fork, knife, and broom. What's another word for tool? Expand further. Can you think of other tools?

In a reverse manner, give a definition and ask for the word. Or...describe the function and ask for the object.

Word games such as these use time, otherwise wasted, in a constructive manner.

If your child is aware and somewhat precocious, discuss analogies. When two things are seen to go together in the same ways as two other things go together, they are called analogies. The relationship in the second pair has to be the same as the one established in the first pair.

Dog is to bark as cat is to ____________. 

Other examples:

House is to man as nest is to __________.
Shoe is to foot as glove is to __________.
Ship is to sea as airplane is to __________.
Finger is to hand as toe is to __________.
Cow is to milk as bee is to __________.

A variation is to set up the analogy on a multiple-choice basis. As an example, using the analogy, 

Finger is to hand as toe is to __________ 

provide the following choices... 

leg, knee, foot, ankle.

Put things together in groups. List 5 things or words where one is odd among the others. For example, 

red, blue, green, yellow, paper. 

Which one doesn't belong? Why? Asking why forces your child to classify the objects using a specific term or a phrase.

Here are a few more:

Apple, pear, potato, plum, peach
Peas, cabbage, beans, steak, carrots
Kitten, puppy, cub, duckling, lion
Car, train, engine, bus, plane
Chair, table, stool, bench, couch



Which is big?

A dog or a horse?
A herring or a shark?
A butterfly or a bat? (think Halloween)
A robin or an eagle?
A kitten or a mouse?
An oyster or a crab?
A lion or an elephant?
A lamb or a sheep?
A hen or a turkey?

Then use the same examples with the term bigger. Name others for small and smaller. Use three or more examples for biggest, smallest. Then use the same examples asking that the animals be arranged from smallest to biggest and/or biggest to smallest.

The value of these exercises provides depth and breadth to your child's known vocabulary. It requires your child to think about the different ways of looking at familiar things and to verbalize those differences. It points out relationships that are needed to be seen and understood in order to classify.

From there, you can ask your child to sort and classify objects. may see the sort differently than your child. Your child may have sorted on a physical attribute that is not quite as obvious to you.

Rather than judge, ask your child to explain or describe. Children don't necessarily see what we see!

Expand on your child's ability to hold directions in mind and perform them in the proper order. Start out with two directions by saying, "Go to the kitchen. Open a drawer." Then add a third. When that is at a level of comfort, add a fourth.

How many simple directions can your child hold in mind? Can your child perform them in the order given?  Does your child only remember one?

If that is the case, don't bother with multiple directions. Work at the level one step below where confusion begins. Have your child repeat them to you orally before attempting to follow through on them.

Have your child repeat 4-word sentences after only one utterance. A five-year-old should be able to remember simple 9-word sentences. If he can’t do that easily, give him a 5-word sentence. Work up to the level where errors occur.

If your child can hear and repeat a 6-word sentence, said once, but stumbles on the first few of a 7-word sentence, drill 6-word sentences adding a 7-word sentence at intervals. You could assist by organizing the words into groupings, much as we do with telephone numbers, to facilitate recall.

When going grocery shopping, ask your child to help you prepare your list by asking,

What vegetables do you think we need?
What kind of fruit do we need to buy at the store?
What kind of meat should we eat, next week? 

The most important language acquisition activity to develop your child's language is to read to your child on a daily basis...from many sources. Stories introduce vocabulary and sentence structures that aren't necessarily used in the home.

Books provide different ways of seeing things. As such, they present many different ways of expressing ideas and thoughts, in word pictures and in illustration. Reading to your child is one of the most effective ways to enrich your child's language development in understanding and in expression.

There is a strong relationship between language acquisition and reading. Your child applies the language she learns to the process of learning to read. What your child hears, the quality of the interactions you have with your child in those communications, and the variety of vocabulary and sentence structures presented all have a significant impact on your child's language development.

Reading is more than a visual process. It is a mental, semantic and language based process. It relies on understanding language, using language, and defining the meanings associated with language.

One of the most important learning processes for your child is one-on-one reading. Your child's language acquisition increases dramatically when interactive reading is a daily routine.

Books are powerful language development tools.

Children love hearing books read aloud.

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