Levels of Language Knowledge (page 3)

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

Children acquire linguistic knowledge and metalinguistic knowledge as they use language and through interaction with others. Only after oral language is well established can children begin to verbalize their metalinguistic knowledge. A teacher’s awareness of levels of language knowledge is important in determining the developmental appropriateness of language-related tasks in early childhood classrooms.

Teachers of young children need to structure their learning activities to involve both linguistic and metalinguistic knowledge; however, it is not appropriate to expect that young children will be able to verbalize their metalinguistic knowledge. For example, during a research observation (Otto, 1985), a first-grade teacher became upset with her young students when they were unsuccessful in explaining to her the difference between a digraph (two letters representing one sound, such as ph in phone) and a blend (two letters representing sounds that are blended, such as cl in clear). Yet, when asked to read specific words containing either a digraph or a blend, the children were successful. They were able to do this because the reading of the specific words drew on their linguistic knowledge (Level I). They did not have to be able to linguistically verbalize (Level III) the language concepts to respond appropriately to the words when reading. Yet, their teacher appeared to interpret their inability to define the two concepts as evidence that they could not distinguish between a diagraph and a blend. Instead of focusing only on the verbalization of metalinguistic knowledge to assess acquired concepts, teachers can use observation and recording of language use (Level I) for evidence of language knowledge acquisition or language competency.

Linguistic knowledge provides the foundation for higher levels of language knowledge. Likewise, the middle level, use of metalinguistic knowledge, provides the basis for the development of the highest level, the ability to verbalize metalinguistic knowledge. For example, children’s phonetic knowledge during infancy and toddlerhood is at the linguistic level of language knowledge. They are able to produce and distinguish between the sounds used in their home languages. As children move into the preschool years, they may acquire a more conscious awareness of distinct sounds in their language and begin to manipulate their language through this conscious awareness known as phonemic awareness. This phonemic awareness serves as a basis for children to acquire knowledge of phonics, which involves learning how alphabetic symbols, letters, are used to represent the specific sounds in words used in written language (Eldredge, 2004).

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