The Role of Parents in Promoting Language Development (page 2)
From infancy to early childhood, one undeniable change takes place - children learn to talk. In cultures around the world, young children's rapid language development represents a language explosion, with words and sentences bursting forth. By age 6, the average child has a vocabulary of over 10,000 words because during these early years children learn words at the rapid rate of 10 to 20 new words per day through a process called fast mapping (Gray, 2006). Furthermore, even though different languages have different subject, verb, and object placement, young children's word placement matches the grammatical structure of their native language from the time they first string two words together. Moreover, young children demonstrate an understanding of verb tense in their language (Allen & Crago, 1996).
An example of preschoolers' knowledge of verb tense is demonstrated in the following example. The young child who says "I played with Sally today" comprehends that ed is added to a verb to represent past tense. When that same child says "Sally and I goed to the park," the child is still demonstrating a basic understanding of past tense. In the second example, the child uses overregularization, whereby a standard rule of past tense is applied to the English language, which has many exceptions to the standard rules. The remarkable advances in language development during the preschool years are further exemplified in young children's social speech. Preschool children are extraordinarily adept at producing socially adaptive behavior in their verbal communication. For example, 4-year-old children speak differently to 2olds when they see themselves in a teaching role than when they are attempting to engage a younger child in informal play. Additionally, young children's speech reflects the social skills of turn taking and topic maintenance (Woodward & Markman, 1998).
What This Means for Professionals
There is no question that the preschool stage of development is an impressive time of language development. The extraordinary growth of vocabulary that occurs during the preschool years is matched by an impressive understanding of basic grammar and socially adaptive language. There are, nevertheless, variations in language development and these variations can be traced to parent-child interactions. First of all, preschoolers need to hear new words in order to learn them. It is, hence, beneficial for young children when their parents continually engage them in verbal dialogues and respond to their questions and other verbal comments. Young children's language development (especially vocabulary expansion) is further promoted when adults label new things for them. For instance, a parent might point to some animals the child sees at a distance and say, "See the deer are running across the field." In less than a minute, the words deer and field enter the child's vocabulary.
Finally, whereas the language development that occurs during the preschool stage is impressive, young children's pronunciation takes a little longer to perfect. It is important that parents do not attempt to correct their young children's pronunciation because that approach actually hampers their preschoolers' language development. Instead of calling attention to their youngsters' mispronunciation, parents should respond to their preschoolers' speech as if they had pronounced the words correctly. In their responses to their young children's mispronunciations, however, it is important for parents to repeat back the words correctly, thereby modeling the correct pronunciation. For example, the child might say, "Mommy, Daddy said we are going on a twip!" In response, Mommy could say "Oh yes! We are going to go on a trip!"
How Young Children Understand Speech
Even though young children's speech reflects their social understanding of turn taking, topic maintenance, and social adaptation, they are somewhat limited in comprehending the speech of others. First, the preoperational thought of young children prevents them from understanding the concept of reversibility, which shows up in their failure to accurately comprehend reverse-order sentences (Woodward & Markman, 1998). An example of this misunderstanding can be detected in the statement whereby the parent says to the child, "You can have a cookie after you wash your hands." Because young children understand the sequence of action in the order that it is presented, the child believes the parent is actually saying, "You can have a cookie, then you should wash your hands." Not only does the child think that cookie eating precedes hand washing in this instance, the child is less likely to have paid attention to the second half of the sentence. The failure to attend to the second stated action in the sentence is due to preschoolers' egocentric tendency to focus on one thing at a time.
Still another limitation of children's linguistic understanding stems from their inability to comprehend metaphors-that one word or phrase can mean different things when used in different contexts. Their inability to grasp metaphors means that young children are quite literal in their understanding and use of speech. As a case in point, if a father tells a preschool child on the phone that he will be home in a little while but that he is "tied up right now/' the child believes the father is literally tied up. The concerned child might turn to the mother and ask, "How is Daddy going to get untied." The child's lack of understanding that words might mean different things in different contexts means their language understanding is very context bound. An illustration of this language limitation is apparent in the situation where a parent has taken the child into the deep end of the swimming pool and the child learns from that experience that deep means over one's head. When that same parent says to the young child the following week that it is okay to step in puddles after a rain while wearing rain boots, but not to step into deep puddles, the child will feel free to step into any puddle that is not over the child's head. Still another restriction of young children is their lack of ability to understand complex, multiaction sentences (Woodward & Markman, 1998). For instance, a young child would have trouble making sense of the following request: "Tommy, pick up your toys, go wash your hands, and put on your jacket." The parent who uses a sentence such as that expects the child to attend to several different requests, which is very difficult for the egocentric young child.
What This Means for Professionals
First, parents should be certain that they speak clearly, and face-to-face, with their young children so that their children have the opportunity to watch the formation of their words and clearly hear how sentences are formed and words are pronounced. Second, it is better to use short, concrete sentences, state one request or idea at a time, and give the child an opportunity to think about and process each request separately. Third, it is important for parents not to use metaphors when talking to their preschool children, who rely on literal comprehension. Fourth, parents need to understand that even though a child has learned the meaning of a word, the child might not understand the usage of that word in a different context. Therefore, parents should be very patient with their young children and not assume that they are misbehaving when they have not followed through with instructions. It is possible that the child has not clearly understood the meaning of words used in a context that does not match the one in which the words were learned. Finally, some parents need to be reminded of the importance of slowing down their pace when speaking to their young children, thus providing sufficient pauses to encourage parent-preschooler dialogue.
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