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Posts tagged ‘language acquisition’

Typical language development: 0-6 months

Thanks to some of the feedback I got from last’s weeks poll, I realized I needed to share more information about typical language development in my blog. Today’s post is the first one.

Although kids are all different and they reach milestones at different levels and ages, parents like to have a reference, an idea of how their child’s speech and language development is, compared to other typical developing children.

So, this week we’ll start with the beginning, babies from 0-6 months old. Now, if you haven’t noticed yet, A LOT happens during the first 6 months (and I’m not talking about the lack of sleep, help or showers! that’s another post!). I divided into expressive and receptive language because, well, speech therapists LOVE to make things more specific and break it down into different categories! Here’s what is expected to happen between 0-6 months.

Expressive Language

  • First of all, crying is babies’ ONLY way of communicating and by the time they are four weeks old, his/her cries are different. There is a unique cry for hunger, wetness, pain and boredom. Then, after a few months, they also start to coo (you know, those cute “ooo-ooo” sounds they make) and make gurgling sounds (sounds like they have water in their throats) of pleasure when left alone and when playing with you.
  • How do they know to do this? Well, within three to four months, babies realize that when they make noise, people respond. When a parent or caregiver responds to a baby’s cries, the baby begins to trust his/her means of communication, because his/her needs are being met.
  • Other behaviors that are expected to develop during this time are: smiling when they see you, chuckles, laughs (sometimes for no apparent reason!) and some vocalizations of excitement and displeasure.  

Receptive Language

How do we know they “understand” language? These are some of the behaviors that let us know they “understand”.

  • Baby startles to loud sounds
  • Quiets or smiles when spoken to
  • Seems to recognize your voice and quiets if crying
  • Increases or decreases sucking behavior in response to sound
  • Moves eyes in direction of sounds
  • Responds to changes in tone of your voice
  • Notices toys that make sounds
  • Pays attention to music

Again, kids are all different and maybe a baby starts smiling at 2 months and another starts smiling at 4 months. However, it is expected that most (if not all) of these behaviors are seen a few times during this period. If you have any concern you can talk to your pediatrician or consult with a Speech Pathologist. You can email me too!

So, what’s your baby doing?

How do I raise a bilingual child?

I know many parents, who are bilingual, that are asking themselves that very same question. Some parents speak a different language than their partner and there are some people who are not bilingual but would like their children to be bilingual. The same question, however, the way each family addresses the bilingual education is very different. So, how do we raise bilingual children? Let’s review a few approaches. 

  • One parent-one language approach. Here each parent speak their native language to the child. That way the child has daily influence of both languages. This really help the child acquire both sets of words at the same time.
  • Time-based approach. Here, both parents have to be bilingual (if possible), and as a family choose when to speak each language. It could be by month (one month one language, then the second language and keep switching), or weekly or even daily (e.g. Spanish in the morning, English at night). This approach reinforces learning both languages with both parents.
  • Home language-community language approach. Here parents speak a different language than the dominant language in the community. For example, Spanish-speaking parents living in the United States. With this approach (very common in the United States, by the way), the child hears the first language (or Native Language) at home and will usually start learning the second language (community language) when he/she goes to school. In this situation the child might have a strong language background to support the second language learning.
  • Mixed language approach. Here both (or one at least) parents are bilingual and the child is exposed to both languages all or most of the time. This approach is slightly different from the one parent-one language approach because the child learns to speak both languages with both parents and does not have to choose a language for a specific parent. 

Things to consider when choosing your approach: When choosing a style of bilingual acquisition, take into consideration that growing up, the child will use more the language that is NEEDED the most. If the home-language is different from the community-language, as they grow, they won’t use the home-language as much, because they realize that they NEED the community-language to “survive”. However, if the home-language is reinforced by all (or most) members of the family as much as they can, the home-language will become “important” as well to “survive” (at least at home!)

Also, consider exposing the child as soon as possible (in the womb, remember?). Early exposure of both languages, will help the child acquire language similar to monolingual children.

I think I will choose the first and second approach for my kids. What do you do? Any other suggestions?

photo: iStock

The bilingual myth

Being bilingual has many, many benefits. I know from experience! However, there are still people who believe that being bilingual can have negative effects on our life, our work and even our ability to communicate effectively. 

Here are some of the most common myths about bilingualism.

Bilinguals acquire their two or more languages in childhood. Not necessarily. Many adults become bilingual because they move from one country (or region) to another and have to acquire a second language. If they practice every day, they will be able to be proficient. However, there are many levels of proficiency, which leads us to our next myth…

Bilinguals have equal and perfect knowledge of their languages. Not true necessarily! Bilinguals will learn the languages as much as they need them and as much as they use them. Some bilinguals are dominant in one language, do not know how to read and write in one of their languages. Only a few people have equal proficiency in both (or more) of their languages. 

Real bilinguals have no accent in their different languages. Also not true!  Having an accent or not in a language does not make you more or less bilingual. It depends on when you acquired your languages, and if you learn the rules of the sounds, you can decrease your accent.

Bilinguals are born translators. Not necessarily. Bilinguals may be able to translate simple things from one language to another, but in order to translate you have to know about the audience and specific vocabulary.

Mixing languages is a sign of laziness in bilinguals. Definitely wrong! Mixing languages such as code-switching and borrowing is a very common behavior in bilinguals speaking to other bilinguals. Mixing languages is mostly used when an expression or words are better said in the one or the other language. (We do this all the time!)

Bilinguals are also bicultural. Not necessarily. Many bilinguals know the two languages but don’t know much about the culture of one of the languages.

Bilingualism will delay language acquisition in children. Definitely wrong! Depending on their age, they are acquiring two languages, simultaneously and they might be bicultural as well. There are many things that can influence their proficiency however, that does not mean they are going to have a language delay. We have to keep in mind that bilingual children, because they have to deal with two or more languages, are different in some ways from monolingual children, but definitely not on rate of language acquisition. (More of this in future posts).

The language spoken in the home will have a negative effect on the acquisition of the school language, when the latter is different. Not true. The home language can be used as a base for acquiring aspects of the second language. It also gives children a known language to communicate in (with parents, caretakers, and, even teachers) while acquiring the other.

If parents want their children to grow up bilingual, they should use the one person – one language approach. Not necessarily. There are many ways of making sure a child grows up bilingual. That is one approach, but not the only one. In a future post I will give some ideas of how to raise a bilingual child. Stay tuned! 

Children raised bilingual will always mix their languages. No again. If bilingual children interact in both bilingual and monolingual situations, then they learn to mix languages at certain times only. Children know when they can be bilingual and when they need to be monolingual (in either language).

What are your thoughts about bilingualism? Are you bilingual?

photo: iStock

What’s typical language acquisition?

Although every child is different, these are some guidelines…

Babies start acquiring language since they are in the womb. But by the time they are 6 months old, they are vocalizing more and they respond when they hear their names!! (how cute is that!).

By their 1st year, they start saying some words or approximation of words. Although these words are not produced perfectly, they use these words with intention and consistently. Around this time they are also able to follow some simple directions such as give me the ball, come here, etc.

Around their 2nd year, their vocabulary explodes! They know about 250 words! (Be careful with what you say, they learn words quickly!). They use 1-2 word sentences.

Between ages 4 and 5, they expand their vocabulary and they learn best through pretend play. They answer basic questions, they can re-tell a story (not many details), and participate in conversation.

Keep in mind that each child is different and they learn differently. So, if your child is not doing some of these things, don’t panic yet!  If you have questions contact your pediatrician, your local school or contact ASHA to find a speech pathologist in your area.

Was this information helpful? Do you have any questions regarding language acquisition in children?