The Child\\\'s Language Environment
Oct 22, 2008 Young Learners 1915 Views
Below are ten features of a child's language environment. They have been selected because they are important elements in the language environment of the child, and because they are often missing from the language environment of the adult learner. They deal primarily with the language that the child hears, not the language that he produces.
First, no pressure is brought to bear upon the child as he learns the new language. There are no tests. There are no grades. And there is no standard that the child must meet in order to be approved by his parents. Though the parents might feel pressure to help their child develop his language skills more rapidly, they cannot transfer this pressure to the child as a motivating factor in his language learning. Children just do not respond to this kind of pressure.
Second, there is all the time that the child needs to learn the language. There is no given period of time in which the child must learn or fail. Rather, there is enough time even for the child who takes a rather leisurely pace in his learning.
Third, there is no possibility of escaping into a language that the child already knows. It just cannot happen. Though he has no external pressure to study, there is no bell to let him out of class and no vacation when he can get away from the new language.
These first three points relate a child's motivation to continue learning. Tests, grades and the pressure of time help to keep an adult at his language learning task, and when these motivating factors are removed, progress often comes to a halt. But a child who does not have these pressures also has no way of escaping from the new language. He must continue to learn if he is going to ever understand anything.
Fourth, the language a child hears is not sequenced by grammar or vocabulary. No one decides when he is ready to hear a new word or a new construction. Parents do not use a textbook or a word frequency study to help them decide how to speak to their children.
Fifth, there is lots of repetition in the language around him. He does not go from one chapter to the next, always having to deal with lots of new material. Rather because daily life contains lots of repetition, the language a child hears reflects that repetition.
Sixth, both the words and the world around the child are new. Thus, his learning of the new language coincides with his discovery of the world, and the curiosity that he has toward the world becomes a powerful force in his language learning.
These last three points deal with the order or sequence of learning. In a normal foreign language class, the textbook or the teacher decides the sequence of the material. Fortunately for a child, he does not have a textbook to provide this sequence. Instead, his environment provides two ways that his language learning can be naturally ordered. The first comes from the natural repetition in his life, and the second comes from the natural order of his interest in the world. In other words, though a child's language environment might seem too rich, too unstructured and too confusing, the environment does contain within itself the ability to tell the child where to begin and how to proceed.
Seventh, all the language is spoken in the context of the world around him. The new language is not a translation of something he already understands in another language. And the new language is not a secret code that must be translated into another language to reveal its hidden meaning. Rather, the language that he is learning is related directly to the world around him. It is always presented as a living language.
Eighth, the child has lots of opportunities to listen to the new language as it is spoken by native speakers. Here there is considerable variation. Some children have more language around them than others. But even those children who spend relatively less time listening to the new language still get lots more listening opportunities than an adult studying a foreign language from a textbook while living in a culture that does not speak the language that he is studying.
Ninth, the language environment of a child gives him many opportunities to speak the new language and be understood. His parents and older brothers and sisters are native speakers of the language, so that when he speaks, he can immediately get the reinforcement that his words deserve.
And tenth, much of the language he hears is simplified especially for him. When a person is speaking to a young child, he does his best to get across his meaning in language that the child can understand. Because the child can communicate by his actions how much he understands, the speaker can tailor his language to the child's level. This is quite different from listening to a radio or tape, and to a lesser degree, it is different from listening to a person speaking to a group. It is very personal, and the many small problems of communication can be quickly detected and solved before they become real hindrances to learning.
This finishes the list of the main elements of a child's language environment. In this list, one can immediately see how rich a child's language environment really is. He has no pressure, and all the time in the world! He has the language all around him, and his teachers are native speakers who live with him (and love him)! He does not have to study from a textbook in a classroom! Rather his private tutors use the world around him as his textbook! It is a situation that any adult learner of a foreign language should truly envy. But there is more to the magic of a child's language learning ability than his language environment. Let us now look at ten important language learning strategies that a child uses to help him so easily master his native language.
This concludes the list of learning strategies. It also concludes my observations on how a child begins to learn his first language. To end this report, I will make one comment and ask one question. First the comment: God has certainly endowed the young child with the magic of a rich environment in which to learn his first language and the magic of a wonderful ability to acquire that language from his surroundings. Now the question: Is this magic limited to childhood, or does some of it remain long after childhood has ended, waiting to be used again, this time to help tame a foreign language?
Summary of the Child's Language Environment
The Child's Language Environment
- There is NO DIRECT PRESSURE to learn (no tests, no grades, etc.).
- There is NO TIME LIMIT for learning (no end of the semester).
- There is NO WAY OF ESCAPING into a different language (no vacations).
- The language is NOT SEQUENCED BY GRAMMAR OR VOCABULARY (no textbook).
- There is LOTS OF REPETITION. His life contains repetitions and the language around him reflects it.
- Both the LANGUAGE AND THE WORLD ARE NEW (and therefore interesting).
- All the language is spoken IN THE CONTEXT OF THE SURROUNDING WORLD.
- THE LANGUAGE IS ALL AROUND. The child has native speakers of the language speaking to him often.
- The child has MANY OPPORTUNITIES FOR USING the language to communicate to those around him.
- Much of THE LANGUAGE IS SIMPLIFIED to the level of understanding of the child. It is tailor-made for the child.