Essay: Child Language Development

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Child Language Development

Experts agree that language formation, like many aspects of child development, is consistent with the classic "Nature through Nurture" theory. That is, all children have an in-built biological capacity to learn language within the context of environment. Since different environments support language acquisition in different ways and to various extents, there are wide individual and group variations in the rate and trajectory of language development (Hoff, 2006). The number of factors reported in developmental psychology literature as influential in language development is overwhelming. They range from the ubiquitous (e.g. culture, socio-economic status, and maternal responsiveness) to the seemingly trivial (e.g. birth order, television, and age of caregiver; Hoff, 2006).

While many of these environmental factors are relatively stable (e.g. ethnicity, birth order, socio-economic standing, child factors), some of them are amenable for control or intervention so as to positively impact language development in children. Of note is the influence of parental behavior, especially in providing the right foundation and communication setting to enhance the language learning process. This paper will focus on two parent-controlled factors, specifically the quality and quantity of their vocabulary or lexical input. The highlight of the following discussion is on vocabulary formation as an indicator of language development since it is widely recognized as powerfully linked to reading comprehension and academic success (Weizman and Snow, 2001). In light of the parental influences discussed, a simple intervention program to improve child vocabulary development is also proposed.

Children rely on parents for their early language experience. Since parents differ in the experience they provide, it is not surprising that young children vary in vocabulary size and rate of vocabulary development during the early years. The quality and quantity of lexical input of parents are recognized as two major influences in vocabulary development among children. Vocabulary formation starts with slow word formation followed by a prolonged, accelerated period of word learning between 14 and 22 months (study among middle-income family children; Goldfield and Reznick, 1990 in Pan et al., 2005). By three years of age, the mean cumulative recorded vocabulary for children is between 500-1000 words, with socio-economic status (SES) accounting for 36% of the variation (Hart and Risley, 1995, in Hoff, 2006).

Many studies suggest that the amount of language input to which children have been exposed during the early years is the major factor explaining differences in the vocabulary size and rate of vocabulary growth among young children. It is reported that among middle-class children aged 14-26 months, the best predictor of vocabulary rate growth is maternal word density input (Huttenlocher et al., 1991, in Weizman and Snow, 2001). An important observation that impacts the influence of maternal word input quantity is that high SES mothers talk to their children more than do lower SES mothers (Ho?, Laursen, & Tardif, 2002 in Hoff, 2006). Concrete data show that by age three, children of professional parents hear twice as much words as working class children and four times as much words as welfare children (Hart and Risley, 1995, in Weizman and Snow, 2001). Quite expectedly, children with the most number of words heard are also the ones with the largest vocabularies (Hart and Risley, 1995, in Weizman and Snow, 2001). Many studies confirm that children from working class backgrounds have smaller and less diverse vocabulary than their middle-class counterparts (Ho?, Laursen, & Tardif, 2002 in Hoff, 2006; Hoff-Ginsberg, 1991 in Hoff, 2006).

That being said, it is possible that the quantity of word input alone may not be the only factor predicting vocabulary outcomes in young children. Larger vocabulary input does not necessarily equate to richer and more diverse vocabulary, one that is usually brought about by consistently hearing low-frequency words (i.e. words that neither fell within nor were derived from the 3000 most common words; Weizman and Snow, 2001). This point is important because it potentially eliminates the limitations brought about by lower maternal SES or educational background on a child's vocabulary development.

For instance, a study on five-year-old children from low socio-economic backgrounds shows that it is not difficult at all to introduce "sophisticated" words like "tusks," "cholesterol," and "vehicle" in mother-child interactions during normal daily activities like mealtime, book reading, and playtime (Weizman and Snow, 2001). Further, even if the amount of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Child Language Development.  (2009, March 19).  Retrieved May 23, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Child Language Development."  19 March 2009.  Web.  23 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Child Language Development."  March 19, 2009.  Accessed May 23, 2019.