There is perhaps nothing more remarkable than the emergence of language in children. Have you ever marveled at how a child can go from saying just a few words to suddenly producing full sentences in just a short matter of time? Researchers have found that language development begins before a child is even born, as a fetus is able to identify the speech and sound patterns of the mother's voice. By the age of four months, infants are able to discriminate sounds and even read lips.
Researchers have actually found that infants are able to distinguish between speech sounds from all languages, not just the native language spoken in their homes. However, this ability disappears around the age of 10 months and children begin to only recognize the speech sounds of their native language. By the time a child reaches age three, he or she will have a vocabulary of approximately 3,000 words.
Theories of Language Development
So how exactly does language development happen? Researchers have proposed several different theories to explain how and why language development occurs. For example, the behaviorist theory of B.F. Skinner suggests that the emergence of language is the result of imitation and reinforcement. The nativist theory of Noam Chomsky suggests that language in an inherent human quality and that children are born with a language acquisition device that allows them to produce language once they have learned the necessary vocabulary.
How Parents Facilitate Language Development
Researchers have found that in all languages, parents utilize a style of speech with infants known as infant-directed speech, or motherese (aka "baby talk"). If you've every heard someone speak to a baby, you'll probably immediately recognize this style of speech. It is characterized by a higher-pitched intonation, shortened or simplified vocabulary, shortened sentences and exaggerated vocalizations or expressions. Instead of saying "Let's go home," a parent might instead say "Go bye-bye."
Infant-directed speech has been shown to be more effective in getting an infant's attention as well as aiding in language development. Researchers believe that the use of motherese helps babies learn words faster and easier. As children continue to grow, parents naturally adapt their speaking patterns to suit their child's growing linguistic skills.