Monday, April 26, 2010

First Language Acquisition

Children around the world acquire their first language in a predictable sequence. Their ability to acquire sound and learn words is remarkable. It is possible to identify the general progression of children as they move from one stage to another in their language learning.

The first stage is the prelinguistic stage. Evidence suggests that babies can recognize the intonation patterns of their language at a very young age. They are also capable of distinguishing between the sounds of their language and another very early. This is probably not surprising if one considers that babies can hear in the womb after approximately 7 months and are exposed to the sounds of language immediately after birth.

Following the prelinguistic stage of the early months is the babbling stage. This is from 4 to 8 months. All hearing babies babble, an indication that this is a universal process. All babies tend to produce the same consonants at this stage regardless of the language they are exposed to. Plosives are produced more frequently than fricatives.

The next stage is the one-word stage. This lasts from 9 to 18 months. Babies now recognize the word as the link between sound and meaning. They begin to produce their own words, particularly nouns and verbs.

From 18 to 24 months babies are in the two-word stage. Children begin to combine words into two-word utterances. Though they are limited in the number of words they can combine, they can communicate quite effectively.

Following the two-word stage comes the early multiword stage which is from 24 to 30 months. Children acquire more grammatical rules and more complex syntactic structures. They also tend to overgeneralize the rules of their language.

The final stage is the multiword stage which begins from around the age of 30 months. At this stage development is very rapid. Now children can produce long and complex sentences. They also gain command of function words.

First language acquisition is similar in all languages. Children progress at similar rates and progress through similar stages. The more children are exposed to language, the more they are able to learn and produce it.

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