A Continuum for Language Development
Babies have fun making noises. They experiment with the range of sounds they can produce, from coos and gurgles to snorts, blowing bubbles, and loud "raspberries." This kind of playful vocalization happens when babies are by themselves and when they interact with adults. As their babbling becomes more advanced, they use the sounds of the adult language that surrounds them, with the rhythms and intonations of the native language they are already beginning to acquire. Babies at this stage of language development sound as though they are really talking, even ending their "sentences" with pauses, and sounding conversational, though their babbles make no sense.
Babbling is more than just "play" for babies (Galinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2000). They must practice the sounds of their language in order to produce real words. Even deaf babies of deaf parents, whose first language is to sign, "babble" with their hands, making gestures that mimic sign language but are not actual signs and do not convey meaning.
Young children in literate cultures go through a scribble-writing stage as they acquire written language. Scribble writing in a sense is the "babbling stage" for literacy. We are so familiar with the scribble writing that children do, making marks on the page in a seemingly random and meaningless way, that we often ignore the importance of this stage. Like babbling, it is more than play. It is an important stage where young children make marks on the page that look like written language, though these marks do not yet represent any meaning. The markings children make during the scribble writing stage reflect the kinds of symbol systems that are used in the written language of the culture that surrounds them.
The babbling and scribble stages are parallel tracks on a language acquisition continuum. The five basic categories along the continuum are ones that teachers and caregivers can easily recognize in the children they encounter. Recognizing what a child can do today helps us know what to be watching for and suggesting as "next steps" on the road to literacy.
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