Is Everyday Exposure to the Target Language Necessary for Multilingual Children?

by Corey · 1 comment

Children learn language through daily contacts, emotional bonds, and everyday interactions with their caregivers.  Language learning happens, for instance, while children are playing everyday games like peekaboo and being talked to while having their clothing changed, sitting in their car seat, and being fed and bathed.

Through thousands of these interactions over many months, young children gradually learn about the role of language in social life.  And eventually they begin to recognize the language patterns that are produced within these interactions and become able to participate in them.

As children become more adept at communicating and participating in these day-to-day interactions, their caregivers naturally begin to use more complex language forms with them.  The interactions between caregiver and child gradually become more complicated and sophisticated.  In this way, the caregiver supports or scaffolds the child’s emerging ability to speak.

Children’s own language development is closely linked to their parents’ language. For instance, researchers who have examined vocabulary growth have quantified the sort of language input children receive (for example, the number of words per hour).  They’ve demonstrated a clear relationship between the number and kinds of words children hear and the number and kids children produce.

In a nutshell, children who hear more language and more complex language in everyday interactions tend to produce more language themselves.  What seems to matter is not what children are explicitly taught about language (for example, through the warnings that many of us heard growing up, such as “Don’t end your sentence with a preposition”).  Rather, what counts is what children hear and are exposed to in their day-to-day lives through everyday conversation, at the dinner table, in the car on the way to the grocery store, or in the backyard.

Above excerpt from The Bilingual Edge, by Kendall King & Alison Mackey, pp. 97-98.  HarperCollins, 2007.

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1 Dominick August 5, 2013 at 3:50 pm

“What seems to matter is not what children are explicitly taught about language (for example, through the warnings that many of us heard growing up, such as “Don’t end your sentence with a preposition”). Rather, what counts is what children hear and are exposed to in their day-to-day lives through everyday conversation, at the dinner table, in the car on the way to the grocery store, or in the backyard.”

Replace the word “children” with “humans” and I will agree with you 100%. Even adults will do better with massive exposure to a new language than being taught rules about how the language is supposed to work.

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