– OUR FIRST WORDS –
Is language, like food, a basic human need without which a child can be starved and damaged at a critical period of life? In the thirteenth century, Frederic II made a frightening experiment to find an answer to this question. He was hoping to discover what language a child would speak if he heard no language at all so he told the mothers in the experiment to keep silent.
The results of the experiment show that hearing no language at all can be very harmful for a child. All the babies in the experiment died before the first year. Was the deprivation of language the only reason for their death? Obviously, there was more than language deprivation here.
What was missing was good mothering. Without good mothering, in the first year of life especially, the capacity to survive is seriously affected. Today no such extreme language deprivation exists as that in Frederic II’s experiment. However, some children are still backward in speaking. Most often the reason for this is that the mother can’t understand or doesn’t notice the cues and signals of the baby, whose brain is programmed to absorb language rapidly.
There are critical times, it seems, when children learn more easily. If the mother can’t deal with these important periods properly, the ideal time for learning skills passes and they might never be learned so easily agajn.
A bird learns to sing and to fly rapidly at the right time, but the process is slow and hard if the critical stage has passed. Linguists suggest that certain stages in language development are reached in a fixed sequence and at a constant age, but there are children who start speaking late and who, eventually, become very intelligent.
At twelve weeks, a baby smiles and produces some sounds; at twelve months, he can speak simple words and understand simple commands; at eighteen months he has a vocabulary of three to fifty words. At three he knows about 1000 words which he can put into sentences, and at four his language differs from that of his parents in style rather than grammar.
Recent evidence suggests that a baby is born with the capacity to speak. What is special about man’s brain is the complex system which enables a child to connect the sight and feel of things with their sound pattern.
The child’s brain is also able to pick out an order in language from the sounds around him, to analyse, to combine and recombine the parts of a language in new ways. However, the child’s language development depends on his communication with his mother. The mother should always understand and respond to the cues and signals in the child’s crying, smiling and his attempts to speak. If she fails to do that, the child will stop trying to speak.
In other words, paying attention to the child’s non-verbal cues is verj’ important for the growth and development of language.
SIGN WITH YOUR BABY
Talk to your Baby
A. What do the following refer to?
1. ‘he’ (line 5):
2. ‘they’ (line 20):
B. Mark the best choice.
1. Line 9, ‘deprivation’ means .
a) inability c) damage b) lack d) understanding
2. Line 14, ‘backward’ means .
a) inaccurate c) quick b) shy d) slow
3. The reason some children are stow in speaking today is that .
a) they do not listen carefully to their mothers
b) their brains have to absorb too much language at once
c) their mothers do not pay enough attention to their cues and signals
d) their mothers are not intelligent enough to help them
4. By ‘critical times’ (lines 17-18) the author means the .
a) difficult periods in a child’s life b) moments when children become angry with their mothers
c) important stages in a child’s development d) times when mothers can’t deal with their children’s problems properly
5. Which of the following is not correct?
a) Children are born with a capacity to speak. b) Children do not need any kind of support to learn to speak.
c) Even very intelligent children may be slow to begin speaking. d) Most children learn their language in definite stages.
C. Mark the statements as True (T) or False (F).
1. Good mothering is important only after the child has learned to speak.
2. At eighteen months the child’s vocabulary is still under 100 words.
3. The author believes that children select and analyse their language.