Overview of Communication Skills
Newborns reflexively yawn, grunt, burp, sigh, and produce an "undifferentiated" cry (Oller & Eiler, 1988). Over time. however, different needs are signaled by differentiated crying, different types of cries. This development suggests that the infant has learned that communicating in this way often lead to the fulfillment of certain needs such as resolving pain, hunger, and fatigue. As infants gradually establish control of breathing and coordination of muscles, they become capable of producing specific sounds.
As general cognitive abilities develop during the first year of life, language abilities also increase. Before speech acquisition, also called expressive language, children learn to understand speech, which is called receptive language (Wood, 1981). For example, at about six months, most children respond to their own names. They turn and look at a person who says their name. At about nine months, most children appropriately respond to words such as come and up.
As children begin to increase the number of their vocalizations, the role of adult modeling of language becomes increasingly important. Parents and other care providers model correct language, semantics (meaning of words), syntax (rules for sentence construction), and phonology (sounds) of language. They also provide models for the rules of conversational speech, called pragmatics, which include taking turns when speaking in a conversation. Adults provide reinforcement by responding to the child after the child vocalizes (Norman & McCormick. 1993).
Care providers and parents frequently use motherese. This style of speech uses a simpler, shorter, and more repetitious sentence structure. That is, adults reduce the complexity of their speech when talking to very young children. As a child matures and begins saying words, adults often expand on the child's vocalizations. For example, expansion is demonstrated when a child says, "Go car?" and the mother responds, "Yes, daddy went in the car." Motherese and expansion seem to enhance language development (Leonard, 1986).
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