Learning languages

Literacy is regularly associated with educational success. So how do we learn to speak our native tongue?

As parents we are all concerned about how well our child is learning its mother tongue. Do you remember when your mother or father taught you the past tense? When did you learn the rules to construct sentences by putting words together in a certain order? We don’t remember these moments of our childhood because they didn’t occur.

Our parents didn’t teach us how to walk and they didn’t teach us how to talk. Children begin by imitating what they hear their parents say and repeat random sounds and phrases. As the child’s speech improves, parents respond more positively with longer phrases and sentences and so the communication channel opens up. In effect, children are like copycats and love to copy the sounds that they hear. A more technical description is ‘subconscious language acquisition’.

Children learn by hearing the sounds/words and by repeating the sound many times. Hearing the sound and repetition are how the child absorbs the language. The encouragement by parents at home enhances the process. Talking with and reading to your children are the best ways to teach language skills, which really are life skills. Children love hearing stories and looking at books, even if they do not understand complete sentences or if they do not know how to read.

Children absorb a massive number of words and phrases by listening to people talk and by listening to stories. They then abstract patterns from the different sentences that they hear and create their own ‘grammar rules’ as they learn to group words together. Children from the age of two to about seven years of age constantly adjust their grammar until it is the same as that of the adult speakers around them.

©  Dana Skopal   2016


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