A2 English Language: Child language acquisition- Theories

Theory has always been boring, but these revision cards about the theories surrounding the topic of child language acquisition should help you get your head around the main bits!

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Imitation reinforcement theory (Skinner, 1957)

The Theory:

The theory that children copy their parent's speech and receive either positive or negative feedback. If they receive positive feedback, the child remembers that they have said something correctly, however if they receive negative feedback such as a correction, the children knows what they said is incorrect and finds other verbal ways to express it and therefore is how children learn how to speak 'correctly'.


  • Children's development in speech would be very difficult if it was purely based on the reinforcement theory depending on their upbringing.
  • Children tend to apply linguistic developments independently, not as the result of this theory.
  • If the theory was true and children only learnt how to talk from copying their parents, they'd be exactly like them. There would be no originality in their speech.
  • Children need to understand what they have been taught, not just say it.

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Innateness theory- Chomsky

The Theory:

The theory that children have an inbuilt capacity to acquire language even before they are born; with a special mechanism in their brain - The language acquisition device which is activated as they grow up.


  • Children who lack social contact cannot fully achieve communication skills.
  • Although they make their own rules for language and resist correction, input is also needed for grammatical and pragmatical understanding, not just producing extremely basic levels of speech.
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Input/interaction theory- Bruner

The Theory:

Suggests that children acquire language through their parent's constant use of familiar sentences, simple vocabulary and by speaking slowly which all act as a scaffolding in children's speech constructions. Overall, interaction with children helps them in terms of their language acquisition.


  • Only explains how children develop their knowledge of language, not how they acquire it in the first place.
  • Will limit children in the originality of their speech.
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Cognitive development theory- Piaget

The Theory:

The theory that argues that once children understand concepts of the world, their knowledge of language rapidly develops in order to express these concepts by adding to their vocabulary with modifiers and new words, e.g: Comparatives - Big, bigger, biggest.


  • Children can understand this but cannot seem to fully demonstrate this.
  • It's not just about learning linguistics, even children with learning difficulties can still manage to use language beyond their understanding.
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7 Language functions- Halliday (1975)

The Theory:

The theory that children are motivated to acquire language in order to fulfill the 7 functions of language which Halliday had identified. These types of language are:

  • Imaginative: That language is used to create a 'playful' environment.
  • Personal: That language is used to express opinions and ideas. "I don't like..."
  • Instrumental: Language fulfills a particular need. "I want milk"
  • Heuristic: Language is used to explore the environment, E.g. questions.
  • Interactional: Used to develop social relationships and eases interaction.
  • Representational: Used to convey facts and information.
  • Regulatory: Used to influence others' behaviour. For example, orders.

In Parks, It's Healthy In Running Regularly.

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Gemma Lee


excellent! extremely helpful thank you!



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