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Method 3: consistently expose babies to the correct use of the language in many different linguistic contexts.

Babies learn languages via many ways. Most importantly, they learn through imitation, which is one of the processes involved in language acquisition, especially in the early stages and especially in learning the sound systems and words (see How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 2))

While babies attempt to listen, imitate and utter the sounds heard in their language environment, hearing key words spoken correctly in various linguistic contexts helps cement the learning process of organizing words in the correct order, in another word, the grammatical concepts.

Think of the word “fall”. It can be used as noun (e.g. the fall of the Roman Empire) and verb, with object (e.g. she fell on her knees) or without (e.g. raindrops are falling from the sky).

Its usage is affected by person (I, you, he, she, it, we, and they), number (e.g. singular vs. plural, singulative vs. collective), and tense (past tense, present tense, and future tense) in grammatical categories. But we don’t teach babies formally the logical and structural rules of arranging words and phrases into sentences.

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Instead, we show them how the key word “fall” is used in relation to what is going on. For example,

Christmas falls on a Monday this year.

Mommy fell into sleep after baby fell asleep.

Ring-a-ring o’ roses, a pocket full of poises, A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down.

Rock-a-bye baby on the tree top. When the wind blows, the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks the cradle will fall. Down will come baby, cradle and all.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

It is a long fall to the ground from this height.

What is distinctive is that babies absorb the grammatical patterns and vocabulary from the contexts without making a conscious effort to learn them. When they hear the word “fall” spoken repeatedly in varying meaningful contexts, they memorize and internalize it with specific actions corresponding to it (e.g. we all fall down).

The nativist linguists maintain that babies are born with sensitivity to particular distributional, rhythmical, and temporal patterns unique to aspects of natural language structure. As long as the input language contains these specific patterns, babies will then attempt to produce them (according to Dr. Laura Ann Petitto, professor, director, and senior Scientist of the “Genes, Mind & fNIRS Brain Imaging Laboratory for Language, Bilingualism, and Child Development ” of the University of Toronto Scarborough and the University of Toronto. For more information, please visit http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~petitto/langAc.html).

Inbuilt signposts direct youngsters, so they instinctively pay attention to certain linguistic features, such as stressed vowels and word order, according to Jean Aitchison, Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication at the University of Oxford.

Children’s main task is to discover which of these features have priority in the language or languages they are acquiring, just as the American statesman Benjamin Franklin once said: “Teach your child to hold his tongue; he’ll learn fast enough to speak.”

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At best, a sensitive parent provides support, by being aware of structures to which the child is attuned, and by addressing input correctly, meaningfully and repeatedly to the youngsters.

“Clear, varied utterances directly addressed to the youngster are the silken strands out of which the child builds the language web”, said Professor Aitchison, “caregiver speech is extra-useful when the same words come in more than once in different ways.”

And it is not hard to do. Many parents do this naturally: “Be careful, Elizabeth! You are going to fall. Oh, my goodness, that is a big fall! Where did your button go? It fell. Aha, here it is. Give the fallen button to mummy. Give mummy the fallen button. There’s a good girl.”

You can do it too!

Jean Aitchison (1997). The Language Web, Cambridge University Press: London.

Related posts:
How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 1)
How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 2)
How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 3)
How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 4)

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