Role of Adults in Children's Language Development
A mother initiated the conversation and engaged her child in a dialogue about the little dog. Social interaction is a key factor in language development. Language does not develop in isolation. This is true for oral language development as well as for the development of knowledge about written language. There are two key components in this social interaction. First, the child needs to be engaged as a “partner in communication” and second, the adult/fluent speaker needs to use effective interaction strategies that facilitate communication and keep the child engaged in the interaction.
Partners in Communication
Language development begins when a child is considered a conversational partner. This can occur even before the child can participate verbally. For many children, this occurs shortly after birth as the parents begin to talk to their newborn. In these conversations, parents engage their infants in a dialogue-like interaction and look for nonverbal behaviors as signs of response. For example, in the short dialogue below, the mother responds to her newborn child’s hiccup as if it was a conversational response, and continues on with the conversation:
Mother: Hello little one. I’m so glad you are here. Look at your little hands (touches fingers). You are so beautiful!
Mother: Oh, my goodness. You have the hiccups! Let’s see if you need a pat on the back (lifts infant to her shoulder, pats her on the back).
Newborn: (hiccups stop)
Mother: There you go. You’re better now.
When adults (or older siblings) consider young children conversational partners, it creates a setting in which the very young child begins to participate in a communicative exchange. This is where language development begins.
Effective Interaction Patterns
The specific ways in which parents and other family members engage young children in communicating also influence oral language development. The six interaction patterns are listed below characterizing a developmentally appropriate setting in early childhood. These interaction patterns are also descriptive of the ways in which many parents and other family members intuitively and effectively encourage young children’s language development. These six interaction patterns include:
(a) shared reference and eye contact
(b) communication loops
(c) verbal mapping
(d) child-directed speech
(e) linguistic scaffolding
(f) mediation (Otto, 2002, 2006).
Through these social interactions, young children gradually develop the ability to use language to communicate.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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