Language is the Tool of Thought

Language plays a central role in the child’s social and cognitive development. It facilitates the development of basic concepts, thinking and reasoning skills and plays a critical role in school achievements and success in the world of work.

How do young children acquire language?
The setting in which the child is in plays a huge role in the child’s language development. Parents do not have to teach children to speak. Children will acquire the language or languages used by parents and caregivers. Thus, the language environment has a powerful influence on children’s language development.

In the preschool settings, teachers and caregivers play a crucial role in a child’s crucial period of language acquisition. We are the speech ‘models’. Children need to hear language being used, in meaningful situations, daily. They need to interact and communicate verbally with peers and adults in their environment. It is essential that teachers provide a variety of enjoyable language activities in the curriculum to enhance language development of young children.

Stages in Language Development
Research in language development has proven that children begin to communicate as soon as they are born. The infant communicates through crying, vocalizing, gazing, facial expressions, gestures and other bodily movements.

The term “language skills” refers to the four essential skills of listening, speaking, read and writing. These four skills are inter-related and are considered to be essential pre-requistics to learning achivements.

While much emphasis has been given to speaking skills, there has not been adequate attention given to the skill of listening. Children need to be able to listen attentively before they can produce oral speech. Without input, there can be no proper output.

The significant difference between hearing, and listening must be understood by us, the caregivers. A lack of understanding of this difference often causes confusion in children, and annoyance and impatience in adults. Have we ever wondered whether all the talk has reached the child? Is the child actively listening? The child might be hearing; – hearing sounds that are uttered without taking in the message. Listening attentively, and with comprehension is called “active listening” – a vital skill in learning!

Therefore, the earlier we help children develop this important listening habit, the better it will be for their learning and development. How can we go about doing this?

  • Use concrete references when speaking. For instance, when you tell a child, “Please keep your toys in the box”, you pick some toys up and keep them in the box. Thus demonstrating the action in a concrete manner. The young child is then able to make a vital connection between what is said, with the appropriate action, and thus, listening comprehension is enhanced.
  • When speaking, do not call out from an adjacent room where you cannot see the child. It is best to talk to the child directly, face-to-face, and establish eye contact to ensre attentive listening.
  • Remove all distractions where possible, to lessen distractions by noises, things, people and events in the environment. In the initial stage, choose a quiet room where you can relate to the child personally.
  • Take turns to talk. Insist on the rule of silence when someone talks. We cannot listen and speak at the same time, do not take it for granted that children know this rule. Tell them that they have to wait for their turn to talk. Children need to be socialized in various social situations and contexts by adults to learn the rules of effective communication through observing adults, and through practice on their part.
  • Try not to confuse them with a verbal overload. Children have difficulty in taking in long messages. Instructions given one at a time would facilitate the listening comprehension of the young child.
  • Encourage children to ask questions. Phrase you speech with words that are within the child’s vocabulary. When using unfamiliar words, explain the meaning. This would expand and enrich their vocabulary and facilitate comprehension.
  • Use gestures and facial expressions.
  • A child does not have to be at the talking stage to listen and comprehen oral speech. Listening is developed before speaking.

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