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Language development, for many child development researchers, is one of our most exceptional achievements as human beings. In fact, for some researchers, language is the distinguishing characteristic of the human species. If so, when does language actually begin to develop? Many would guess that it occurs within the first year of a young child’s life, when they utter their first words. Not so! Long before the age of 12 months, when children typically utter their first words, a great deal of developmental work has been done, in the pre-lingual period, to prepare for this momentous event.

Consequently, in this Lesson you will review language development from infancy to age six, investigating aspects of prelingual and postlingual communication. Once you have a good grounding in typical language development, you will begin to tackle atypical language development, focusing on the linguistic patterns of children with hearing loss, intellectual disability, autism, and specific language disorders. You will also briefly review speech impairments and fluency disorders.

Learning Objectives

When you have completed this Lesson, you will be able to:

· Describe the theories of language development, and indicate the emphasis each places on innate and environmental influences;

· Describe major milestones of language development in the early childhood years, and ways adults can support infants’, toddlers’ and young children’s emerging language and communication capacities;

· Discuss why language comprehension develops ahead of language production;

· Describe individual and cultural differences in early language development and the factors that influence these differences;

· Describe the Aboriginal perspective on the development of language in young children;

· Explain how hearing loss, intellectual disability, autism, and specific language and speech disorders affect communication development.

Language Development in Infancy and Toddlerhood

Regardless of how it occurs, infants prepare for language in many ways during their first year. First words appear at around 12 months, and 2-word utterances appear between 18 months and 2 years. At the same time, substantial individual differences exist in the rate and style of the early language process. Conversational give-and-take and child-directed speech (a simplified form of parental language) support infants’ and toddlers’ efforts to become competent speakers. Finally, as we have already mentioned throughout this course, children also have the benefit of their innate characteristics and cultural influences that in many ways also support the development of their language and communication skills.

· Now, please go to pages 233-236 in the 2012 edition, pages 231-234 in the 2016 edition, and pages 227-231 in the 2020 edition, and read the Theories of Language Development section. These would be the behaviourist, nativist, and interactionist theoretical perspectives. As you read, think about the emphasis each theory places on innate abilities and environmental influences. As with other theories that cover other developmental areas, there are divergent opinions. Theorists in language development are no different.

· Now, let’s review the definition of some very important terms. What is language? What is Speech? What is communication? In order to learn about these terms, please visit the Playing with Words (
) website. There, you will learn what these terms mean, and read about examples of each of them.

· Now, return to your text, and read further sections in Language Development (pages 236-241 in the 2012 edition, pages 235-240 in the 2016 edition, and pages 231-235 in the 2020 edition). These sections include Getting Ready to Talk, First Words, The Two-Word Utterance Phase, Comprehension versus Production, and Individual & Cultural Differences. Please take a moment to watch this lovely video of an infant babbling (
). Pay close attention to how Mommy and Daddy are responding to and encouraging this little guy to babble, communicate and interact with them. Also, please notice how well they are able to read their baby’s signals, and how they stopped, when they felt that the baby has had enough!

· Next, in your text, read the last section in Language Development (pages241-243 in the 2012 edition, pages 240-241 in the 2016 edition, and pages 236-237 in the 2020 edition) on Supporting Early Language Development.

· Finally, please take a moment to watch a few really interesting videos, about the development of speech and language. The first video can be found here (
), and when you get to this youtube video, you will find a few other videos, on the right side of your screen. If you have time, do watch these videos, as they are super cute and super informative 🙂

Language Development in Early Childhood

Now, we will continue our review of typical language development by focusing on children in the early childhood or preschool years. You will learn that language acquisition is closely connected to cognitive development. You will also learn that between 2 and 6 years of age, children make incredible leaps in the development of their language and communication skills.

Please return to your text and read the Language Development section of Chapter 9, on pages 354-359 in the 2012 edition, pages 348-353 in the 2016 edition, and pages 344-350 in the 2020 edition. There you will review the basics of language acquisition, Vocabulary, Grammar, and Conversation. This part of Chapter 9 concludes with the Supporting Language Learning in Early Childhood section, which is a great read!

To understand the development of language in Canadian children, we have to be aware of the multilingual features of Canadian society. Some Canadian children learn English and another language simultaneously, for a wide variety of reasons. In some cases, it is because the mother speaks one language and the father speaks another language. In other cases, it is because the language spoken at home is not the language spoken in the child’s community or school.

In order to learn more about the subject of bilingualism, please visit the following website (
), where you can get answers to questions like “can a child learn more than one language at same time?” and “does learning more than one language delay the development of language in children?”

Please note that there are several really good websites that you can visit, and that will give you a great overview of the speech and langauge milestones that typically developing children should reach, as they develop their speech and language skills. One such great website is the developmental milestones for language and speech (
), which lists developmental milestones, in typically developing children. You will be surprised to see that some speech sounds are incredibly difficult to pronounce and are therefore not fully mastered by most children, until they are 6 to 8 years old!

Before leaving this section, let’s look at language development from an Aboriginal perspective. There are a few great articles that you can look at, and that would give a great idea about how Aboriginal communities view the development of language (and literacy), in young children. Please start by looking at the document entitled Aboriginal Young Children’s Language and Literacy Development (
). It discusses several important topics, including the language and literacy needs of Aboriginal children and Aboriginal approaches to language and literacy. Next, please read the “First Nations Elders and Parents’ Views on Supporting Children’s Language Development (
)” document. This great article is published by the University of Victoria.

Atypical Language Development

While most children appear to master language skills easily and without specific instruction, other children may be slow language learners and, in some cases, fail to acquire some or all of the language skills that are considered typical of most children.

Please start this section by reading the “Atypical Language Development” book chapter, which is available through the Library Course Reserves. This chapter reviews major conditions that adversely affect both the speed and mastery of language learning: hearing loss, intellectual disability, autism, and specific language impairment. In the latter section of the chapter, the author makes the distinction between language and speech disorders. Speech disorders, or the inability to articulate some aspects of the sound components of language, may occur in isolation of or in combination with language or other disorders. The author covers cleft palate and stuttering, in this section. Please take a moment to watch this informative video (
) about cleft lip and palate, from Boston Children’s Hospital. And before moving to the next section, let’s meet some amazing children who stutter (
), and who will tell you a little bit about this disorder.

Another common childhood language disorder is Childhood Apraxia of Speech. In order to learn about this disorder, please read the “Does My Child Have Childhood Apraxia of Speech” book chapter, available through the Library Course Reserves. And to learn more about this disorder, please take a moment to visit the Apraxia Kids (
) website, where you will find a wealth of information about this condition.

There are many interesting websites that describe speech and language difficulties in children. The website of The American Speech Language and Hearing Association (
) is one of them. It provides you with a lot of useful and practical information about language and speech disorders. Such disorders include speech sound disorders (

Extremes in Language Development

We now know that language development is no small feat. Although it comes naturally to the vast majority of children, some children do struggle with its acquisition, for a variety of reasons. We know that the child’s biological make-up, culture and environment are all important determinants of language outcomes. What we also know is that language cannot develop without social interaction with others (Gleason & Ratner, 2013). We are social beings, and we need social interaction in order to develop language and communication skills. We know, from rare and extreme cases of child abuse, that children who are subjected to extreme abuse and neglect end up suffering greatly, in all developmental areas, including language. One such child is known as “Genie”. She was a child who was severely abused and neglected by her family, and as a result suffered serious developmental delays, including delays in the area of language. If you have time, please take a moment to meet Genie, by watching this NOVA special documentary entitled “Secret of the Wild Child. (

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