7.2 Child Development: What are the factors that impact language acquisition?

7.4 Analyze the factors that impact language acquisition


1. Exposure to Language

The more a child is exposed to good language models and to each of the four areas of language the more proficient the child becomes in that language. The opposite is also true. So the two most important aspects of exposure are; the quantity of time of exposure and the quality of language models. Since learning a language take time for mastery the child can’t learn a language if he/she doesn’t hear it spoken or see it written or if the langue model whom they are to imitate is not proficient in the language.


2. Stimulation to Motivate Learning

Cognitive Stimulation enhances the probability of children developing concepts that they want to communicate about. Hence, they want the labels – that they will obtain from those around them.


Linguistic Stimulation is the use of language by those around the child. In hearing the language being used by significant persons in their lives, children hear the sounds/grammar and meaningful language units that can be used for communication. As we learned earlier, the more they hear a language used in all of its potential functions and forms, the more easily and rapidly they are able to learn the language.


If caregivers use motherese it simplifies the process of language learning for the child. Motherese is a simplified version of a language that has shorter sentence structures (grammar) and simpler words (vocabulary/ lexicon). Used with a language learner to assist in communication and learning of the language.


Positive Emoltional Stimulation ensures that the children feel loved and secure so that they are able to learn freely without anxiety. Providing love and nurturing care (meting all of their physical needs quickly) provides this needed emotional security.


3. Health (and Nutrition) Status of the Child

If children are sick or malnourished they are less likely to be able to attend to the language around them or to have the motivation to learn to communicate in that language.  Consequently, the children are less likely to learn the language


Physical Health includes the status of the child’s health physically in terms of presence of illnesses or brain damage caused during birthing, or by illnesses or accidents.  If the child is physically well, he or she is highly motivated and able to learn the languages of important people in their lives (Significant Others) such as the primary caregiver and immediate family members. When a child suffers from severe malnutrition there is energy depletion and learning is retarded. The same applies to illnesses especially severe illnesses. Usually after nutritional and health status improves there is a period of catch up growth or growth spurt that in this case applies to the language usage.


Brain damage to the areas of language learning that occurs at these young ages causes the brain to adapt other near by areas or those in the other hemisphere (side of the brain) to language learning. Thus, language learning is only shortly delayed unless the damage is severe. The brain is very placid (flexible) at these ages and is somewhat flexible as to where language (and other capabilities) are processed.


Psychological Health refers to the development of positive emotional states and social relationships so that the child feels secure and capable. When children are exposed to excessive negative stimulation (excessive yelling, physical abuse, etc) the front part of the brain is excessively stimulated and appears to interfere with the stimulation to other areas needed for learning. This explains why children in abusive households appear jittery, withdrawn and very cautious even if they have never been abused themselves.


4. Individual Capacity and Individual Differences

Children are not the same and there are differences in capacity and learning characteristics that impact their ability to learn languages.


Rate of Learning varies from child to child depending upon genetic codes. Some biologically learn very quickly, while others learn moderately fast and others more slowly. This could be generally in reference to learning anything or specific to language learning.


Type of Intelligences also impact. Children who have high Linguistic Intelligence (one of the multiple intelligences identified by Howard Gardner)  they are more likely to learn language(s) more rapidly and with less effort.


Level of Overall Intelligence also contributes to language learning. Children with low overall intelligence (low Intelligence Quotient or IQ) require many more language experiences and opportunities to learn. They require more time and many more experiences with motherese forms of language. They will learn but at a different rate.  The more serious the deficit in intelligence, the slower the rate of learning and the lower complexity of the language will be learned.


5. Gender

Boys tend to learn language slower than girls. This appears to biological due to brain differences. By older ages the differences are less apparent.


6. Multiple Language or Single Language Learning

The more languages that a child is exposed to and is trying to learn impacts the rate of language learning. There is naturally some cross learning but the brain is capable of identifying the different language structures and forms if it is exposed to adequate language models for some time. Any “mistakes” in language learning at this age should not be considered as errors but as evidence of the breadth and depth of the languages being learned and the status of the language learning. Since we continue to learn languages and about our languages throughout our life, this is an early stage of language learning.

Definition of terms

Further Reading


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