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Child Directed Speech

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What are the main features of child directed speech and how does it help language acquisition?

The language traits that characterise child-directed speech tend to facilitate the acquisition of language. Children start their lives without language and are faced with the challenge of emerging into a world in which they cannot effectively communicate. From the time a child is born, however, they will begin to associate what happens around them with meaning.

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As time passes, they will begin to associate unknown verbal forms to known meanings. Parents show a unique type of speaking that is referred to as child-directed speech, motherese, or, more commonly, baby talk for example “moo-cow”.

This speech has many unique characteristics that distinguish it from adult-directed speech. One feature of child language acquisition is that children master language by making mistakes until they fully acquire the skills. This ‘trial and error’ approach shows that learning is taking place, however, phonological development seems also to depend on physical ability to produce sounds. Some phonological errors used by children are deletion in words such as “do(g)” and “cu(p)”. Although some add on extra vowels, for example “doggie”.

A lot of young children change one consonant or vowel for another, known as an assimilation such as “gog” instead of “dog”. These errors show that as a child learns a word is substitutes the sound of a letter for a different one. In phonology there are a variety of features used by parents for language acquisition such as higher pitch in the parents voice, a greater range of frequencies in the tone, a slower speed of speech, clearer enunciation, emphasis on one or two words in a sentence, and special pronunciations of individual words.

This is more common from the mothers as it comes naturally to them and is done in order to allow infants time to process the information being conveyed to them. Rhythm is also emphasized when talking to a child and is used closely with the emphasis of various syllables. One children can produce sounds effectively they can use these skills to form real words that others can recognize. Proto-words have meaning for the child and the parents so a child needs to acquire the vocabulary that will help them be understood by a wider audience. Also a

child needs to learn the meanings of words in order to link objects and ideas. The rate of lexical development in children at 12 months is that they know 50 words which increase to 2,000 at 36 months which shows that language is aquired in the early stages. Parents also tend to use some lexical features in speech such as “mama” and “dada” to encourage the child to start speaking, as these words are usually the first two the child says in their early months. As the child starts to progress, the parent uses diminutives like “doggy”, “kitty”, “potty” for the child to understand easily.

Children can link a word and the referent easily as they can usually see it, or see a visual representation in a book. The social and interactive nature of many words also indicate the importance of interacting with others, suggesting that pragmatic awareness is vital to language development. The reduplicative such as “quack quack” and diminutives like “mummy” show the bridge between phonological and lexical development. Child directed speech features a unique syntax. Parents usually use short utterances rather than full sentence structures in order to convey meaning to their child.

They are often repeated so children have practice in a particular concept. Child directed speech helps infants to detect syntactic boundaries and makes linguistic patterns easier to recognize. Children begin to understand word order through child directed speech which slowly expands into a deeper understanding of sentence structure. However, communicating with children can be difficult if you can’t maintain their attention, so you need to talk about a topic that interests them.

For example if you are washing them you could talk about all the different body parts whilst washing them, if they splash talk about the splash. Ask a lot of questions and let them reply as this speeds the acquisition of verbal auxiliaries by the child. Parents should use lots of names for things and many words for actions as they play an important role in later language development. Conversations with children are mostly about the present, here-and-now, rather than topics pertaining to another time, past or future.

Regarding grammar, in the first three or four years there is not much point in correcting them as it will just confuse them and may do harm to their confidence and self-esteem. It is best to let the child correct themselves spontaneously when they are ready. However you could drop hints to help them out in correcting what they are saying. In order to relate to a child during “baby talk”, a parent may deliberately fabricate some words, and may pepper the speech of non verbal utterances. The parents might refer only to objects and events in the immediate surrounding area, and will often repeat the child’s utterances back to them.

Children employ a wide variety of phonological simplifications, usually assimilation or reduplication, in learning speech, where the child seizes on a stressed syllable, and repeats it to form a word. Within the context of normal conversation with their children caregivers use a variety of techniques to encourage the continuance of that conversation. Repetition is one of the most frequently used methods of prolonging conversation, as well as one of the particular traits of child-directed speech.

Frequently heard words for objects will be better remembered and better articulated than other words once the child begins to develop a productive vocabulary of real words. The more times a child hears a sentence clearly modeled, the more that child’s language learning is facilitated. The expand and recast technique serves as an alternative to repetition, and, is a method parents often use as it gives children new ideas and helps with the formation of grammar, as well as prolonging the conversation by recasting the prior topic into a new form.

Turn-taking is another technique used in child-directed speech. Used early in the child’s development, turn-taking provides infants with the opportunity of learning the structure of conversations. The parents use cues such as exaggerated pauses to help infants learn to take their turns. Routines of turn-taking also serve other functions in linguistic development. Babies gain experience in vocalizing, and participate in situations in which that vocalizing becomes more language-like.

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