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Language Learning Stages

Stage 1 in learning a language is the prelanguage stage – or the crying stage. This isn’t really considered language, as the sounds a newborn makes are just responses to the world outside and inside them, especially the world inside the stomach and inside the nappy.

However, during this stage, babies are aware of the sounds around them and can hear the differences between language sounds (phonemes).

Talk to your baby lots. Instinctively, you will probably speak in “motherese”, where you talk in a funny high-pitched voice and baby talk. Don’t train yourself out of this – babies hear these high frequencies better than lower voices.

Stage 2 is the babbling stage, where your little baby sits and “talks to the angels” in a string of sounds. They say that during this stage, babies are sorting out the sounds that belong in the mother tongue from those that don’t – though how on earth the experts know this is open for debate.

They are also learning the tones or notes of conversation. You can help them during this stage by having conversations with them, where you ask questions and say things, and treat their babbles in response as if it was a sensible reply.

If you don’t know what to say, read out an article from a magazine and ask their opinion about it.

Stage 3 is the one-word stage, and it’s the one that parents love. The first word is so special. The words that children are most likely to say first have one or two syllables, with the syllables ending in a vowel sound.

Children get a lot of mileage out of their single words. Obviously, “no” is a useful word that can mean “I don’t want to,” “I don’t like that,” “I’m not happy” and “I’ve had enough of this” as well as general displeasure and reluctance.

It’s part of becoming a separate individual: you now have the ability to express an opinion that’s different from Mum’s.

Stage 4 is the two-word stage where children begin to string words together. During this stage, some phrases are treated as “words�.

For example, they might treat “all gone”, “bye bye” and “beep beep” as single words. During this stage, personal pronouns (us, you, him, her, they, etc.) don’t get used, although some children get the hang of “me”.

Stage 5 is the simple sentence stage, where children string more words together, although they leave out a lot of the grammatical bits like prepositions (to, from, for, at) and things that attach onto verbs (ing, -ed and so forth). They stick to the main words.

Stage 6 is the refining stage when sentences get more complicated. This can be a tricky stage for parents, as the things that children say are almost right but not quite right.

This is because children have managed to figure out the basic grammatical rules but haven’t worked out the irregularities (and English is one of the most irregular languages known!).

Children say things like “The zoo mens holded the mouses.” This far, they’ve figured out that you add S to make a plural and that you add –ed to make the past tense.

Don’t try to correct them. It won’t work until their subconscious has learned the rules, which will happen at their own pace.

Most parents instinctively avoid correcting children’s grammar at this stage but focus on the truth of the statement.

To quote a linguistics textbook it is “mildly paradoxical… that the usual product of such a training schedule is an adult whose speech is highly grammatical but not notably truthful.”

How can parents help children through the process?

While you can’t speed the process of acquiring a language up, the best thing that you can do is to keep talking to your children.

Live language is what counts (TV, DVDs and CDs won’t help, so ignore any marketer that tells you that if you pop your child down in front of the box it will help their language).

Read to them lots. Talk about anything and everything. Sing to them and with them. As long as it’s live language, they’ll learn it.

Language Learning Stages