Language has been on my mind lately. I have been so amazed at how much of early child development is about language. Sure they are also learning to be crawl and walk and learning to develop their small and large motor skills. These are monumental development milestones but with these skills they are essentially learning to control parts of their body. It is a cultural adaptation. Language is something external to them or at least that is what I used to think. My interest, sparked by my almost 3 year old, has led me to doing some research on the topic.
We live in exciting times because the emergent technologies are allowing us to pinpoint in the brain where language originates and which parts are involved. These new discoveries will lead us towards greater understanding of human language acquisition and are reconfirming the findings Maria Montessori made over 100 years ago. Patricia Kuhl has done groundbreaking research around language. What Patricia Kuhl and her team discovered was that one on one interaction between an adult and a child is the optimal way for children to learn language. Interestingly, they also concluded that learning via audio recordings or television does not yield the same results as in person connection and conversation. Between 6-12 months of age, infants are in what Patricia Kuhl refers to as a Sensitive Period for Sounds and speaks of the ages between 0 and 7 as the Critical Period for Language Development. The amount of sounds that they take in during this time effects their language development later on in life. Patricia Kuhl has an excellent Ted Talk video that you can view if you would like to learn more.
Patricia Kuhl’s work in 2017 has extended into exploring how music plays a role in language development. “Results showed that a 1-month laboratory music intervention focusing on rhythm learning enhanced 9-month-old infants’ neural processing not only for music but also for speech. Together, these results suggest that these enriched auditory experiences in infancy may improve infants’ general auditory pattern-detection skills and their sensitivity to phonetic information.” This provides parents yet one more way to provide vocabulary enrichment to their children. I know for us, when our son was under 2 years old, he wasn’t interested in having books read to him. Although I hadn’t heard about this research, I sang songs to him instead. I would often sing a familiar tune while making up the words to make it more relevant to the situation. When he began using the “ba”sound, I started singing songs that emphasized that sound, such as “Ba Ba Black Sheep” and “Barbara Ann” and encouraged him to join in.
When he first began speaking, you could see that he was using language as a way to get his needs met. Just recently, he has begun to use language as a way to describe the world around him and to connect with others. He picked these clues about language on his own. Now I see that it is because his brain is hardwired to do so though there are certainly ways in which we encouraged and nurtured this internal strive for acquisition. For one, we have always been keen on speaking to him on a regular basis.When he did start to vocalize, we would try to match or at least always made a point to respond to his verbalizations so that he would naturally pick up that language was a back and forth process. When the babbles turned to real sounds, we would repeat the words to show understanding and if a sound he made wasn’t clear, we would gently correct it. I believe that this not only gave him the correct model for the sound but demonstrated that what he was saying had importance. Research shows that infants pick up on the mechanics of a conversation as well as the phonetic makeup of sounds. “By around age 7 months, babies begin taking turns “speaking” with others instead of talking at the same time as others do. They may initiate conversations with others as they begin learning how conversation between people works.” This is why it is again so important for the caregivers in infant’s lives to talk to them and include them in on conversations with others on a regular basis.
Knowing about the Absorbent Stage from the Montessori Pedagogy, we had conversations with him before he was verbal. Even before knowing about Patricia Kuhl’s work, we were always trying to enrich his vocabulary and to immerse him in other languages. We were fortunate to have given birth in Bali, Indonesia, so the for the first two years of his life he was raised bilingually and because Bali is such a travel destination, he was regularly surrounded by other languages being spoken. We are currently living in the US and it will be interesting to see how much of the Indonesian language he will retain throughout his life. Either way, I look forward to witnessing his further developments in language and what others have experienced with the children in their lives.