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Child Language Acquisition
Skinner (1957) Imitation and Reinforcement
Children acquire language by imitating and repeat what they hear. When they are
approved of or applauded for their success, this reinforces their acquisition of the
word(s). The idea is that a human will repeat if the results are pleasurable and will
avoid if the consequences are unpleasant. Caregivers reward a child's efforts with
praise and reinforce what the child is saying by repeating words and phrases back
and correcting mistakes. However, there are some problems with the imitation theory.
Children are able to construct new sentences they have never heard before,
therefore are not always directly imitating. Children don't memorise thousands of
sentences to use later, so their development cannot be exclusively based on
repeating what they have heard their parents or other people say. Imitations can't
explain overgeneralisations as children can't copy these as adults do not make them.
His ideas on reinforcement could be useful to link to literacy acquisition.
Chomsky (1965 ­ Present) Innateness
He believed that children have an inborn ability to extract the rules from the language
they hear around them. He believes this innateness enables children to learn
language quickly. He also maintains that children are born with an innate
understanding of grammar. He suggests that each child has a Language
Acquisition Device (LAD) which allows them to take in and use the grammatical
rules of the language that is spoken where they live. Supporters of Chomsky state
that the existence of the innate LAD would explain: the impressive speed with which
children learn to speak, the fact that children from all cultures pass through similar
stages of language development, and the existence of grammatical features that is
common to all languages. The LAD can also explain why some children will exhibit
speech features of a future stage. Successful CLA by the age of 5 is dependent on
coherent development of each of the aspects: cognition, physiological and social.
The main criticism is that it underestimates the significance of Skinner's argument
that imitation, interaction and reinforcement are important in language development.
Bard and Sachs (1977) Input
Input theories are the most recent CLA theories. The input theory stresses the role of
Interaction in the development of language. A child's language acquisition is said to
depend on the Input made by parents and other carers.
Piaget (1977) Cognitive
The cognitive approach focuses on the importance of mental abilities and skills. He
stated that children need to develop certain mental abilities before they can acquire
particular aspects of language. First a child is unable to mentally process the concept
that something can exist outside their immediate surroundings ­ called egocentric.
At around 18 months children realise that things have object permanence and can
exist without aving to see it. The child can then mentally grasp the ideas of past,
present and future. When a child is able to arrange objects in decreasing size, the
ability and skill are mirrored in their use of language, and they will begin to use
comparatives. Children are active learners who use their environment and social
interactions to shape their language. Children are also unable to be taught before
they are ready. One criticism is that it doesn't explain how some people with learning
difficulties are still linguistically fluent. It suggests that cognitive development and
language development are not as closely connected as this approach suggests. He
has four development stages:
· Sensorimotor (up to 2 years old) ­ child experiences the physical world
through the senses and begins classifying the things in it; lexical choices,

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permanence develops.
· Pre-operational (2 ­ 7 years old) ­ language and motor skills develop and
become more competent. Language is egocentric.
· Concrete Operational (7 ­ 11 years old) ­ children begin thinking logically
about concrete events.
· Formal Operational (11+ years old) ­ Abstract reasoning skills develop.
Vygotsky (1978) Social Development Theory
Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. He
believes that a child's cultural development starts with interaction on the social level.…read more

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Repeating ­ Repeating an adult word or utterance.
· Answering ­ Responding to an utterance of another speaker.
· Requesting Action ­ Asking for something to be done for them.
· Calling ­ Getting attention by shouting.
· Greeting ­ Greeting someone or something.
· Protesting ­ Objecting to requests from others.
· Practising ­ Using language when no adult is present.
Vegetative Stage (0 ­ 4 Months)
This is where babies exhibit sounds of discomfort or reflexive actions like crying,
coughing and burping.…read more

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Pronunciation continues to be erratic. The feedback children receive in this period of
language acquisition is one of the most important elements in the learning process
since it establishes them as participants in `real' communication.
Telegraphic Stage (24 ­ 36 Months)
Utterances at this stage are characterised by their lack of function words ­ there is
generally an absence of prepositions, conjunctions and articles. Utterances consist
mainly of content words. Children tend to talk about the present rather than the past
or future.…read more

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Consonant Cluster Reduction ­ consonant clusters can be difficult to
articulate, so children reduce them to smaller units e.g. `pider' for `spider'
· Deletion of Unstressed Syllables ­ omitting the opening syllable in
polysyllabic words e.g. `nana' for `banana'
· Overextension ­ when a child acquiring language uses a word too generally
to refer to different but related things e.g. calling everything with four legs a
· Underextension ­ when a child uses a word in a very restricted way e.g.…read more

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Stage 1: Inconsistent Usage ­ a child will use an inflection incorrectly some
of the time, but this is because they've learnt the word, not the grammatical
· Stage 2: Consistent Usage, but sometimes Misapplied ­ e.g. applying the
regular past tense inflection ­ed to irregular verbs. A child will say something
like `I drinked it' instead of `I drank it'. This is an Overgeneralisation or
`virtuous error'.…read more

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Teachers tend to use a combination of approaches because some children respond
better to one particular method over another. It also ensures that children develop a
range of skills.…read more

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Key Features of Reading Schemes are:
· Lexical Repetition ­ especially the new lexis introduced in each book but
also proper nouns.
· Syntactical repetition of structures ­ usually subject-verb-object order and
simple sentences containing one clause (in early books).
· Simple Verbs ­ single verbs used rather than verb phrases.
· One sentence per line ­ helping children to say complete phrases.
· Anaphoric Referencing ­ pronouns refer to the names of characters already
used.…read more

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Barclay (1996) outlined 7 stages of writing development:
· Stage 1: Scribbling ­ children make random marks on the page, which
aren't related to letters or words. They are learning the skill of keeping hold of
a pencil or crayon, which prepares them for writing.
· Stage 2: Mock Handwriting ­ children often practise drawing shapes on
paper, although it's still not usually possible to work out what the drawing
represents.…read more

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Orientation ­ event ­ reorientation. The orientation sets the scene, and the
reorientation at the end of the recount completes the writing.
· Report ­ a factual and objective description of events or things. Tends not to
be chronological.
· Narrative ­ a story genre where the scene is set for events to occur and be
resolved at the end. It also has a set pattern: orientation ­ complication ­
resolution ­ coda.…read more


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