Just imagine how wonderful the world must be to a newborn child. At first, it appears to a child as something glowing, noisy, hard or soft, full of smells and tastes. Then, it becomes even more fascinating and mysterious, with things taking shape, things moving, jumping in and out of sight, noises unraveling into music, smells into meals and flowers, the whole buzzing, sparkling sight of appearances merging into other appearances, from morning to night. Changes and states, changes and states, and all the while Mom and Dad are naming this, naming that. Out of this confusion and punctuations of moment and rest, child language development gathers together a world of words, of subjects and actions that their miraculous human minds put together as a world represented and expressed as language. How utterly wondrous is the human mind and our extraordinary power to speak!
Even though child language development is slow, occurring over years, even into adulthood and old age, as it occurs, we never cease to be impressed by its acquisition. Humans were definitely made for speech. Speech, language, is the expression of thoughts, ideas, emotions, perceptions, sensations, and imaginings, of our subjective and objective experiences. It is the means by which we order the world for ourselves and between ourselves. Some argue language is our true reality. The word lies behind our experiences of the world, they say, rather than the world lying behind our language. Whichever the case may be, in child language development we see both reality and language developing for the child simultaneously.
Child language development occurs in phases. In the first months of a child’s life, the speech apparatus begins to develop. Cooing, gurgling, crying, all these are preparing the mouth, throat, and vocal cords for the more refined and coordinated physical actions involved in speech. They’re vocalizing. By 3 months, they’re making vowel sounds, and by six months, after playing with sounds, they’re making two syllable sounds. Between 7 and 12 months they’re babbling, angel’s speech, and around 13 months you’ll hear them speak a word or two. By 18 months they’re speaking more distinctly, and at 3 years they’ve got questions, hundreds of them. At the age of 4, they say the cutest things, using words with many malapropisms, and by 5 years they’re speaking full sentences. From there it’s speaking paragraphs with central themes.
The words that we use and that our children learn refer to objects and processes, their denotation, but also to related ideas or feelings, attitudes, implications, to connotations that are not the object or process the word points to. As children learn words, usually from adults or siblings, but also from peers, they learn the names of things and actions, but also attitudes towards these new words. Language development is also attitude development, value building. Language development and emotional development are closely related.
Child language development is a reflection of the development of the child’s world view, of the child’s understanding of reality. It’s a wondrous process and one we should aid in its development without turning off our children to the joys of language. Look further into this power that distinguishes us from all the other creatures on earth. In the beginning, and throughout our lives, it’s the word that holds our reality.