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Method 4: encourage babies to actively engage in interaction

It is clear that children must be exposed to a language in order to learn that particular language (see How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 2)).
It is also clear that hearing key words spoken correctly in various linguistic contexts helps cement babies’ learning process of organizing words in the correct order, in another word, the grammatical concepts (see How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 3)).

However, for language to expand, children need to be given many opportunities to interact, which include conversations, self-corrections, questions and language play.

These interactions enable children to seek validity of the grammatical patterns of a language by producing them in their own utterances, and to modify their patterns in response to feedback and further linguistic input. After all, it is almost impossible to produce enough examples of every possible grammatical pattern to enable children to reproduce (Coelho, E. & Rivers, D., 2003, p143).

Again, think of the word “fall” (as in How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 3)). 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.

When we talk to babies, we try to make every sentense right. For example, we say

Be careful, Elizabeth! Don’t fall!

Poor Humpty Dumpty… he fell and broke himself.

Look, the raindrops are falling from the sky.

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

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While a child hears the sounds of the word “fall” and its related grammatical patterns spoken repeatedly in varying meaningful contexts, he memorizes and internalizes it with specific actions corresponding to it (e.g. we all fall down). The parent, upon hearing the child’s words, might provide positive reinforcement, such as “yes, that is right!” or a smile.

But, a lot of times, the child makes mistakes. He might not mark the past tense at all. He might say, for example, “I fall yesterday.” Then the parent will correct him by saying “no, that is not right. You should say ‘I fell yesterday’.”

Later, the child perceives to add a suffix to mark past time (e.g., called, moved). At this stage, he might say “I falled yesterday.” Again, the parent will correct him by pointing out the mistakes and telling him the right way. Eventually, after repeated interactions with adults and numerous corrections, the child’s utterances are shaped to fit the standards of his particular language community. One day he acquires the right form, “I fell yesterday”.

Interactions also help children become an active party in the process of making sense of language and in the process of language learning. Active, creative invention of language and constant self-corrections enable children to expand the extent of their knowledge of language structures.

By questioning, children become active in their attempt to comprehend and learn (Lindfors, 1991; Winner, McCarthy, Kleinman, & Gardner, 1979). And conversations provide children opportunities to socialize with adults, help them learn to guide their inner voice, and satisfy their needs to feel socially competent and accepted to become competent language users. (Clark, B. A., 200, p181).

Children learn from speaking. Therefore, encourage your children to actively engage in interactions. In addition, “exchanges of sounds, gestures, or expressions help babies develop the sense of mutuality and give-and-take that underlies secure relationships” (for more details, please visit Let’s Talk About It: Building Language and Literacy Skills).

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References:
Clark, Beverly A. (2000). First- and Second-Language Acquisition in Early Childhood, Issues in Early Childhood Education: Curriculum, Teacher Education, & Dissemination of Information. Proceedings of the Lilian Katz Symposium (Champaign, IL, November 5-7, 2000), 181-188.

Coelho, E. & Rivers, D. (2003). Adding English: a guide to teaching in multilingual classrooms, Pippin Publishing Corporation: Canada.

Lindfors, J. W. (1991). Children’s language and learning (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Winner, E., McCarthy, M., Kleinman, S., & Gardner, H. (1979). First metaphors. In D. Wolfe (Ed.), Early symbolization (New Directions for Child Development, No. 3). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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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