Language Acquisition


HideShow resource information

Verbs (Grammar)

Traditionally known as 'doing' words - this does not cover all their possible meanings - they express actions and states. 

Stative Verbs - express states of being in which there is no obvious action. they are not often used as commands e.g. to know, to believe, to remember, to realise

Dynamic Verbs - express a wide range of actions. they can be used as commands and occur after the verb 'to be' with an 'ing' ending - think, see, buy etc.

Transitive Verbs - have to be followed by an object to complete their meaning. 'i carried the baby' 'we can make a cake' 

Intransitive Verbs - do not need to be followed by an object to make sense. many verbs describing position, like sit and lie or motion like to run, or to go are intransitive.

Types of Verbs = Lexical and Auxiliary
Lexical verbs express meaning in a verb phrase 'the boy ran to school'
Auxiliary can be used to construct timescales, questions and emphasis.  'i have gone' 

Modal verbs - express possibility 'would' 'could' 'may' 'might' 'must' 'shall' and 'should' 

1 of 19

Voice (Grammar)

The active voice is most common, it expresses the action of the verb directly linking it to the thing carrying out the action. 'the car stopped suddenly' 'the girl picked up the book'

The passive voice changes the focus of the sentence by reordering the elements.
A - the police hit the rioter
P -  the rioter was hit by the police 

Here the passive changes the focus of the sentence. it can also create suspense by leaving the subject til the end of the sentence, it is also possible to omit the person or thing responsible for the action of the verb

2 of 19

Determiners (Grammar)

precede nouns, there are 5 main types. 

Articles - can be definite (the) or indefinite (a or an) the first specifies something particular while the second does not. 
e.g. the dog/a dog - the house/a house.

Possessive Determiners suggest ownership of a noun. 7 forms, my, your, his, her, its, our and their. 'my book' 'our suitcases'

Demonstrative Determiners establish either a close or a more distant relationship 'this' 'these' (close) 'that' 'those' (distance)

Indefinite Determiners convey a range of meanings 'all' 'some' 'any' 'no' 'each' 'neither' 'both' 'several' etc.

Numbers  if numbers precede a noun they act as determiners
'the first  visitor will receive a present' 'six sheep have escaped from the farm'

3 of 19

Noam Chomsky (Theory)

Language is innate. Chomsky believes that learning takes place through an innate brain mechanism, it is pre-programmed to acquire grammatical structures. He calls this the LAD (language acquisition device) 

He supports his argument with the fact that children all around the world develop at a similar rate in similar stages of development. the fact that all children can acquire grammar by an early age regardless of environment points to a LAD.

LAD - the human brains inbuilt capacity to acquire language
universal grammar - the explanation that all world languages share the principles of grammar despite surface differences in Lexis. 

However if language was ONLY imitated, CDS would lead to fragmented language. Chomsky counter-argues Skinner. 

4 of 19

Jean Piaget (Theory)

The mind can develop only when it is ready. Cognitive growth is an extension of biological growth. Learning relies on the participation of the learner.
Piaget  believes that thought shapes language and children learn to speak 'naturally' without the need for deliberate teaching. 

Piaget also states that a childs language is egocentric as children do not often think outside of their own sphere of conciousness.

Object permanence must be achieved, the realisation that objects in the physical world are referred to by a language system.

5 of 19

Jerome Bruner (Theory)

A child's social environment and interaction are key in the process of learning. He, like Piaget believed children assimilate in terms of an existing set of cognitive structures. 

He also theorized 'language scaffolding' he describes this as a temporary support system parents build around children in their quest to learn new information. Teachers commonly use scaffolding with students.

6 of 19

Vygotsky (Theory)

In the learning of language, first utterances are for the purpose of communication. once they are mastered they become internalised and allow inner speech (thought)

He suggests that thought and language are the same, and that they are inter-dependent upon eachother

Key Concepts 

Zone of proximal development (ZPD) peak age to absorb language

More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) somebody who has the ability to help in the language scaffolding process.

7 of 19

CDS (Speech)

Aims to ... engage and help build bond with child, breaks down language into understandable chunks, keeps conversation in the 'here and now' - sphere of conciousness.

Features - higher pitch/intonation, repeated sentence frames (SVO) "you want that toy?", lots of concrete nouns, limited pronoun use, absence of past tense (difficult concept) omitted inflections, expansion (filling out the utterance), recasting (child's vocab is put into a new utterance)

Chomsky argued language is innate, and if it was learnt merely by imitation would be severely fragmented due to the use of CDS.

  • humans have an inbuilt capacity to aqcuire language - chomsky
  • language is acquired through imitation and reinforcement - skinner
  • language is developed through interaction with adults - vygotsky
  • acquisition is part of wider development of understanding - piaget 
8 of 19

Stages of Development (Speech)

The pre-verbal Stage - vegetative (sounds of discomfort or reflexive actions) vocal play (using open-mouthed vowel sounds) babbling (repeated patterns of consonant and vowel sounds) and proto-words (word-like e.g. 'mmm' instead of 'give me that'. 

Holophrases/One word stage - Katherine Nelson identified 2 groups for these, referential and expressive. referential - early words are linked to objects, lots of nouns and adj, no inflections (ed endings)
expressive - words linked to social greetings, lower proportion of nouns, sentences reflect complete frameworks, inflections arrive (plurals/past tense)

Two Word  - children often omit past tense, conjunctions, pronouns. word order is often confused. Brown and Fraser's pivot grammar theory is applicable. Childrens grammar consists of open words and pivot words. e.g. elephant (open) eat (pivot) the meaning is dependant on the pivot word. 
Telegraphic - three and more words combined 
Post-Telegraphic - more grammatically complex - reading and writing skills start to develop.

phonemic expansion - the variety of sounds produced increases
phonemic contraction - the variety of sounds is reduced  to only the sounds of the main language used.

9 of 19

Children's Books (Reading)

Many aim to help with speech development by providing pictures. these are usually based around hypernyms (weather, clothes, animals) to provide children with relevant hyponyms (rain, socks, dog)

Nouns and adjectives are the most common word classes. by giving labels to objects the books often link to the child's immediate environment.

Early story books are design to be read TO children, not BY them. often containing more complex vocabulary and grammar that they can understand even if they cannot use it themselves. a child's understanding is ahead of their ability to use it.

Reading schemes are different to reading for enjoyment. they are created to aid the learning process, they often help children develop fluency skills. 

The size of a child's vocab is massively increased if they are frequently read to.
Common Features - abstract nouns, adjectives, SVO, present tense, concrete nouns, adjectives.  
- directive speech and instruction 'off you go spot'       - often told by a parent/teacher
-  no speech marks, keeps it current                              - graphophonic cues (lift the flap)
- extremely interactive                                                    - warnings/moral stories
- conversational, anthropromorphic (animals speech)   -  teaches adjacency pairs
- third person writing                                                      - familiarises pronoun use (buster becomes 'him')
- contractions used to mimic speech 'you're'                  - reinforces politeness conventions 
- mono and duo-syllabic words                                      - contextual situations are relevant to children

10 of 19

Techniques (Reading)

Synthetic Phonics Approach - breaking words down into phonemes and blending them together. they learn the individual phonemes, this way they can apply the technique to words they may not have seen before. phonics are the basis for success within reading. one disadvantage is that sounds that are similar are not always spelt the same way.

Look and say - recognising the shape of the word, 'whole word' approach. children are encouraged to learn words as whole units. pictures/flash cards often accompany the words to create meaning. the whole word approach usually encourages children to learn to write from a younger age. however it means children aren't comfortable adjusting with new words that they have not seen before because they don't know the rules of learning to say a new word. it advantages mature readers as they do not rely on phonemic decdiong

Most argue that a mixture of strategies give children the best reading advantage.

reading cue - strategy for helping children to read (decoding words) writers build these into their books
contextual cue - searching for an understanding in the situation of a story, comparing to own experience 
graphophonic cue - hints based on sound-symbol correspondences e.g. "sound it out/ break it down"
visual cue - when a picture aids the story

The middle of a word is usually the most problematic part for a child.

11 of 19

The Oral Tradition (Reading)

Word of mouth, always been a basis for stories. Tradition passed through literature
Key features of stories: 

  • Alliteration
  • Repeated epithet - (names) Little Red Riding Hood
  • Balanced sentences - repeated verbs (dennis didn't like the dark, didn't like the night time)
  • Assonance - repetition of vowel sounds (how now brown cow)
  • Repeated formulae - same question is asked to several characters, repeated sequence of events
  • Proverbs - a moral that relates to child's life
  • Parallel sentences - same semantic fields and syntax 'the snake was happy/ the tiger was glum'
  • Rhythmic language 
  • Metaphors (overextension) e.g. the sea or 'the whale road'
  • Additive structure - use of lots of conjunctions 'and' 'but'

books need to - reflect the relationship between graphemes and phonemes, be cohesive and interconnect. organised in particular ways, chapter headings/page numbers etc.

12 of 19

Chall's Stages Of Development (Reading)

Jeanne Chall's six stages of reading development (our focus: toddlerhood - age 11) Stages 0-3 are relevant.

Stage 0 Pre reading (up to 6 years of age) 'pretend reading' includes turning pages and repeating stories perhaps previously read to them. some letter and word recognition (especially letters in own name) single words are predicted

Stage 1 Initial reading (6-7 years) reading simple texts containing high frequency lexis (happens when children learn the relationship between phonemes and graphemes) 

Stage 2 Confirmation and fluency (7-8 years) texts are read more quickly and fluently, paying more attention to meaning of words and texts.

Stage 3 Reading for learning (9-14 years) reading for knowledge becomes the motivation.

13 of 19

Reading Schemes

Deliberately staged in difficulty. Aim is to build confidence throughout stages. often aim to negate stereotyping (multi-cultural, ungendered) 

Key Features: 

  • lexical repetition: new Lexis introduced in each book as well as proper nouns
  • repetition of  structure: usually SVO or simple sentences (one clause)
  • one sentence per line: helping children to say complete phrases
  • anaphoric referencing: he/she refers to names of characters already used
  • text/image cohesion: picture tells the story of the text on the page 
  • limited use of modifiers: makes reading schemes different from imaginitive stories where adjectives add detail (a modifier is an optional element in phrase structure)
14 of 19

Main Reading Mistakes (Reading)

  • Children may read ahead, above or below the actual discourse of the text, eyes may not yet be able to follow a line of text smoothly (especially if the line is not traced by a child's finger)
  • the shapes of some letters and words are very similar (b/d, v/u v/w) and variations in forms of print (sans vs. serif) differences between lower and upper case may prove a problem (q/Q) (b/B)
  • digraphs are confusing, they are not read as two seperate phonemes, but one blend 'sh' is not read 'suh-huh' but 'shhh'
15 of 19

The five spelling stages (Writing)

Pre-phonetic a child can imitate writing, mainly scribbles and uses pretend writing. some letters/shapes are recognisable

Semi-phonetic a child can link letter shapes (graphemes) and sounds (phonemes) this is used to write words

Phonetic a child can understand that all phonemes can be represented by graphemes. words become more complete.

Transitional a child can combine phonetic and visual knowledge. an awareness of combinations of letters and letter patterns including the 'magic C' rule (whether it copies the 's' sound or the 'k' sound e.g. city/cat

Conventional a child can spell most words correctly

16 of 19

Britton's Three Modes (Writing)

Expressive mode - 

  • the first mode to develop because it resembles speech
  • the first person is used
  • usually based on personal preferences

Poetic mode - 

  • develops gradually, requires skills in crafting and shaping language
  • is encouraged at an early age because of its creativity
  • uses rhyme rhythm and alliteration (similes and adjectives are also common)

Transactional  - 

  • Develops last (secondary school age) N/A. generally more academic
17 of 19

Main Types of Spelling Error (Writing)

Insertion - adding extra letters 

Omission - leaving out letters 

Transposition - reversing the correct order of letters in words 

Phonetic Spelling - using sound awareness to guess a spelling (ground/grownd)

Over Generalisation - using a rule where it is not appropriate to apply it 

Salient Sounds - writing only the key sounds

Schwa - ignoring the unstressed sounds (apple/appl) (woman/womn)

Punctuation as children grow older they gain skills in checking, editing and correcting their work, therefore punctuation is usually a latter skill. the use of punctuation suggests that the child has mastered the difference between spoken and written discourse.

18 of 19

Stages of Writing

Emergent Writing - a term used to describe a child's early scribbles (often a child will say what they have written as it is not otherwise legible) 

Ascender - when the letter goes above the usual height for letters in any font 'b'
Descender - when part of a letter goes below the baseline of a font 'p'

from an early age children recognise genre's of writing e.g. cards/letters/lists. therefore an eye for pragmatics and register is also created. 

Spelling how do you spell a word you haven't heard before?

  • sound clues - sounding it out to stress syllables 
  • clues from the words meaning to link to other words 
  • seeing if it 'looks' right 
  • using grammatical patterns to predict spelling
  • a dictionary/spell check 
19 of 19


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Language resources:

See all English Language resources »See all Child language acquisition resources »