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Language Development in Children

In most cases, a baby should be able to understand simple words and commands from the age of nine months. From around a year, he should start saying his first words. From about two years, he should be able to use simple phrases, and by three he should be able to use full sentences. By four, he should be fully able to talk, although he may still make grammatical errors. By five, he should have acquired basic language.

It should be noted that there is nothing that any human being can do which he has not learned to do. This is especially true of language. One very often encounters the expression “language development” when referring to the child's acquisition of language. By this expression it is often intended to imply that the child's acquisition of language is an automatic process.

This is a completely misguided idea. Language development should not imply that it is an innate and “natural process” or that the child's knowledge of language grows by itself as the child's physical body grows. In fact, his body will also not grow if the child is not fed regularly. Even physical growth then, does not happen by itself.

Parents should start talking to their little baby from the day he is born. The baby learns language in one way only, and that is by hearing language as the parents talk and talk to it. The more a parent can talk to a child, often repeating the same words, the same phrases, the same structures over and over, the sooner the child will learn language.

An important thing to note here is that by the time a baby is about nine months old, as was mentioned above, he should be able to understand simple words and commands. He may perhaps also be able to say a few simple words already. Invariably, however, one finds that the baby understands much more than he is able to say. In fact, this remains so of any person throughout his life. One is always able to understand more of any language, even one's mother tongue, than one is able to use in active speech. This is even more so of any second or third languages that a person is able to speak.

This shows that we have two more or less separate masses of language knowledge, our passive knowledge (also called receptive language) on one hand, and our active (expressive language) on the other. When we listen or read, we make use of our passive vocabulary, and when we speak or write, of our active vocabulary. An important thing to note here is that the child's passive vocabulary came into being through constant repetition of words, phrases or structures. Once a word, phrase or structure has been repeated often enough, it also becomes part of the baby's active vocabulary. As stated by Dr. Beve Hornsby, a child who is just beginning to talk must hear a word about 500 times before it will become part of his active vocabulary. Long before that it will already form part of his passive vocabulary.

This shows that the active vocabulary can only be improved via the passive. The stratified nature of learning therefore applies here.

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