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Language Development

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

There is a close connection between the development of thought and the development of language. Language also develops within a social context and depends on social development (Bates, 1976). Various theorists attribute importance to different factors in the development of language. The nativist view (Chomsky, 1976) stresses that children are preprogrammed and have an innate ability to acquire language. The behaviorists focus on the importance of the language environment. The infant and young child need appropriate language models and constant feedback as they attempt to communicate. Other theorists (Piaget, 1952; Vygotsky, 1962) viewed the development of language as a complex interaction between the child and the environment, which is influenced by both social and cognitive development. Both Piaget and Vygotsky believed that as children develop language, they actively build a symbol system, which helps them to understand the world. They differed in the way in which they viewed how language and thought interact with one another. Piaget believed that cognitive development led to the growth of language whereas Vygotsky viewed language as developing thought. A child's external speech is the first step in the development of thinking. Vygotsky's theory stresses the importance of communication with others as a major factor in the development of a child's language, which stimulates the development of thought. Vygotsky's theory views the important effect that an adult has on the development of language. His theory describes the importance of the zone of proximal development, which is present in interactions children have with adults. This zone is described as the "distance between the child's actual developmental level determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance." This adult guidance is referred to as scaffolding. In order for the scaffolding to be effective, it must match the child's developmental level so the child is comfortable enough to use the guidance, which may present enough of a challenge to reach the next level in a particular area. For example, an adult whose goal is to provide an appropriate amount of scaffolding may engage in a conversation with a young child using various strategies. If the child asks a question about a particular topic, the adult may first ask a child, "Well, what do you think about that?" Once the adult knows what the child thinks, he can decide which ideas to confirm and which ones to extend and determine just how much information the child can assimilate during one conversation. Adults who do not typically provide scaffolding will not ask the child's thoughts on the matter, but will answer the question directly. In doing this, they have not figured out exactly what the child is asking, nor do they know what the child already knows about the particular topic. Even though the child in this situation may be satisfied with the answer, he has not had the opportunity to actively discuss and manipulate ideas in order to construct knowledge. Sometimes adults can ask young children open-ended questions. The children's responses are often filled with information, which adults in the scaffolding role can extend. Consider the various answers these 3- and 4-year-old children gave to a teacher's question, "What do you know about leaves?"

"The leaves fall from the trees and they always roll away."

"They do their jobs. They grow."

"They fall on the ground."

"The wind comes and blows them very fast and they roll across the grass. I can catch one of the leaves."

"Sometimes the leaves get into beautiful colors like a rainbow. They fall to the ground and I catch them, and when they stay up in the tree and they do their jobs and keep growing and growing and growing."

Clearly, these children already have a vast knowledge about leaves. The teacher can then take this information, which is meaningful to the children, and weave it into discussions about seasons, the life cycle of plants, weather, and an appreciation of the beauty of nature. A teacher can say, "You were talking about how the leaves get into beautiful colors like a rainbow. Let's find a book about leaves and find out how they do this."

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