Overview of Communication Skills (page 2)
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).
Around three months, most babies begin cooing, which is comprised of soft melodic vowel sounds, including "ooh" and "ahh." Between six and fourteen months old, most babies begin to babble, which refers to repeating strings of vowels and consonants (e.g., babababa, mamama), When a child coos or babbles and an adult is present, the adult usually responds to the child in some way (Bloom, 1993), For example, after a child says, nananana, the adult may turn toward the child, imitate the child or respond in some other way. When adults respond to children in this manner, it often reinforces vocalizations. Children are more likely to coo or babble if an adult responds (Fey, 1986).
Children typically speak their first word at about twelve months. At this time, most children begin making their needs and desires known through words (Aitchison, 1996). These words are mental symbols that refer to objects, people, and events (Kuczak, 1986). The year-old child typically may say several words. These words are most often names of familiar people or objects such as mommy, daddy, and drink. These vocal symbols serve as a method for children to encode (store in memory) their experiences. They also provide methods for encoding information in long-term memory (Clark 1996). Children are likely either to overextend, applying a word broadly to a set of stimuli, such as using the word juice to refer to any drink, or underextend, restricting the use of a word to only one stimulus, such as using the word dog to mean only the child's toy dog (Carroll, 1986).
Children's use of art, symbols, and language to represent objects, people, and events is called symbolic thinking. The ability to think symbolically is directly related to language development (Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1986). Symbolic thought is evident in preschoolers' dreams, imagery, and play. This form of thought allows children to start fantasizing and creating novel images by manipulating symbols in complex and personal ways. Children's abilities to use symbolic thinking depends on prior development of cognitive abilities that allow them to think about, organize, and process information internally (Norman & McCormick, 1993),
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