Helping Preschoolers Enhance Their Spontaneous Language (page 2)
Psycholinguists, who study the stages of speech development in young children, have identified several facets of early speech that are important to parents and caregivers to understand:
- Children do not merely parrot back the words they hear. Their language is an original creation or construction.
- Children have their own grammar or consistent word order that is not the same as that of adults.
- When children listen to adult speech, they tune into its meaning and not its form.
Correcting children's grammar does not make sense because they are focused on the communication and do not recognize that there are correct and incorrect ways of expressing the same meaning. The same thing is true about correcting pronunciation. Children attend to the meaning of a sentence, not to the way it sounds. Correcting a child's pronunciation is completely ineffective, as shown by this example of a conversation between a mother and a preschool child:
Abbie: "Mommy! Mommy! My pasgetee keeps slipping off my fork."
Mommy: "Abbie, you mean your spaghetti keeps slipping off your fork."
Abbie: "That's what I said. It keeps slipping. See?"
Mommy: "Say `spa.' "
Mommy: "Now say `get.' "
Mommy: "Now say `tee.' "
Mommy: "Now say `spa-get-tee.' "
Mommy: "Very good! You said it perfectly."
Abbie: "But Mommy, my pasgetee falled off again. Can I use my fingers?"
Although adults cannot improve children's pronunciation or grammar by correcting their speech, adults do play a critical role in helping children develop language:
- Adults provide children with real-world experiences, which are the basis of language development. These experiences include opportunities for the following:
- To manipulate objects
- To experience a variety of sights and sounds
- To practice motor skills
- To visit new people and see new places
- To see and create pictures
- To hear stories, poems, and songs
- Adults use words in meaningful contexts so that children can discover that words stand for real-world things and events.
- Adult serve as good speech models, exposing children to correct grammar and pronunciation.
If we accept children's language and avoid the pitfalls of correcting their pronunciation and grammar, they will in time learn to speak correctly. It seems that children have an innate ability to abstract the rules of grammar and articulation and to apply them to their own original sentences. When Abbie complained because her "pasgetee falled off" the fork, her use of the word falled demonstrated how much she already knew about language. Abbie recognized that the -ed sound at the end of a word was a way of indicating that something happened in the past. She made this kind of connection: "I kick the ball today. I kicked the ball yesterday. I fall down today. I falled down yesterday." Abbie had never heard her parents use the word falled. Rather, her use of the word was a logical application of a rule. It will take several years for Abbie to realize that there are exceptions to rules, however, and to know when they apply.
Adults model not only the forms of language for children but also the uses of language. As children listen to adults use language in a variety of ways, they learn that language is used in many ways:
- To give commands and directions
- To greet people
- To ask questions
- To express how you feel
- To provide information
- To tell jokes and stories
- To describe things that happen
- To sing songs and have fun
Finally and most important, adults serve as good listeners and good audiences. They provide an emotional climate that encourages children to share their information and feelings.
© ______ 2006, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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