The Role of Adults in Language Development
Adults have a major role in infant and toddler language development, as demonstrated in how parents of different cultures use language with their very young children. Although children have an innate ability to acquire language, their social interaction with adults is also a major factor in language acquisition.
Adults begin speaking to their babies during the first days of life. Moreover, they adjust their style of talking to fit the infant’s stage of development. This type of baby talk is termed parentese. Parentese is higher in pitch, simpler in vocabulary, and shorter in sentence length. It uses more questions and commands and fewer complex sentences than adult talk.
People of all ages use parentese. Siblings are natural users of baby talk. At first the parent or other person does all of the talking. The infant is the interested recipient. The parent might engage in both sides of a conversation. The infant signals its responsiveness with smiling, gestures, and physical actions. Once the child begins to use holophrastic speech, or single words that can have more than one meaning, the parent interprets and clarifies the child’s speech and meaning in the conversation. The toddler is trying to communicate in all efforts and speaking. The adults use labeling, expansion of the child’s speech, and nonverbal smiling to support the child’s development of language (Berger, 2000).
The language interaction between adults and infants has been described as a dance. The individual characteristics of the parent and child affect the nature of the dance. Parents who talk extensively to the child have more of an influence in the child’s development of language than parents who use restricted language in their communications with the child.
The nature of the child’s interaction also affects the interactive relationship. The child can affect the responsiveness of the parent. The infant’s temperament or intelligence might affect how responsive the infant is to the mother. This in turn can affect the level of the mother’s responsiveness to the child (Stevenson, 1989). In sum, in the interactive relationship or dance between mother and child, both partners affect the richness and extent of language that takes place. Both partners affect the other. The mother initiates the language relationship, but the child’s responses can affect how much the mother continues the language conversations.
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