For years, linguists have been studying the ways children learn a language. It’s quite fascinating really. Do they have prior understanding of the language’s rules? Or does language come naturally to them just like other natural instincts? We are not yet sure how their brains work around it.
Research reports from the Linguistic Society of America reveal that our brains consist of modules for language. There are separate modules for separate language functions which develop over the course of time. Some deal with the comprehension of rules, while others deal with complex language functions. For instance, one of the prevalent ways to activate language modules is to instill reading habits, which can be done by narrating stories from storybooks or sourcing kids’ stories online.
However, there are many theories explaining the ways in which children acquire language. For instance, behaviorists believe that language acquisition is similar to habit formation. The behaviorists suggest that a child learns language in three steps, namely, imitation, repetition and practice. For example, parents who present visually appealing picture storybooks to their babies, provide them a language stimulus. As a result, children register those sounds in their minds and with continuous stimuli in the form of reading online story books and listening to audio books, such neural pathways solidify permanently.
Another linguistic school of thought, Innatism, proposes that children are born with an innate ability to learn language. According to them, children have a language acquisition device (LAD) in their brains which contains information about the rules and regulations of all the languages. The LAD is activated as soon as it is exposed to language prompts from adults. When the child hears a story, he tries to process the incoming sounds and apply the rules stored in the LAD.
Interaction-ism is another popular linguistic school of thought which proposes that children acquire language as a result of interaction between biological disposition and exposure to language from the environment. They place a strong emphasis on the role of the environment in the development of language. A child who is provided with active language input from their environment tends to do better.
In any case, it all narrows down to the working of the brain and language development. According to the Association of Psychological Sciences, a child’s brain is similar to a muscle, equipped to perform complex functions, including language learning. But just like any other muscle, it needs to be put to use. For instance, when a child receives language stimuli from the environment, the language modules or LAD are activated and over the course of time and as well as the magnitude of the stimuli, the muscle responsible for language acquisition is developed.
If you are a parent, searching for quality storybooks for your child, then start with the cat, the fish and the waiter. It is an amazing book, translated into dozens of languages and easily available online.