A language is a communication tool in a specific group that includes verbal, non-verbal, and visual applications (Fellowes, 2019a). The language could be introduced in written, spoken, or graphic forms. According to Robins (n.d), the language functions to communicate, express identity, play, and imagination, and reveal emotions. The fact that the language is specific only for humankind and differs from animals’ communication patterns, such as vocal noises and physical articulations, makes it unique. Robins (n.d) states that language learning requires cognitive, emotional, and physiological skills during early childhood. Language skills need recognition of specific sounds and words and understanding specific symbols, body movements and gestures, and facial expressions (Robins, n.d). The purpose of the language is not limited to communication and expressing feelings. It is also widely used for various reasons in every aspect of human life. Thousands of languages developed throughout human history are necessary attributes of human life.
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Language learning and literacy play a crucial role in children’s overall development. According to Hope Medical Clinics (n.d), language learning among young children helps them to communicate, express, and understand feelings as well as critical thinking skills and construct relationships. At the early period, children learn how to communicate orally and develop their speaking and listening skills. This process lays the foundation for other language skills such as writing and reading. Language learning is an essential part of education, as it creates interaction between educators and students (Roskos, 2009). Language development is a necessary mean of children’s cognitive and social development that lately affect every aspect of their life.
Literacy of the child is closely associated with language learning. In fact, literacy is defined as using language skills (Fellowes, 2019a) properly. The link between language development and literacy is natural, as literacy helps to understand how language work (Hope Medical Centre, n.d). Additionally, literacy increases children’s vocabulary, argumentative and critical thinking skills. Therefore, it is essential to control children’s language development and avoid language learning delays. As mentioned by Hope Medical Centre (n.d), delayed language and literacy development are related to learning disabilities, anxiety disorder, academic difficulties, social difficulties, behavioral problems, and ADHD. Appropriate language development and literacy are critical in children’s development.
Young children, including infants, toddlers, and preschool children, develop language patterns by following two language types receptive and expressive (Bowen, 1998). The development of these language structures begins from birth and continues before the age of five. Receptive language pattern corresponds to listening and understanding skills of the language. From the moment of birth, babies become aware of the environment and start to listen and recognize the speech around them (Kid Sense, 2016). Moreover, at this period, babies recognize unexpected and loud noises (Bowen, 1998). At 0-3 months, babies react to the speech and smile when recognizing familiar voices.
Rosset (n.d) adds that babies respond to comforting voices from different people. Babies start to respond to simple commands such as yes or no at 4-6 months. Rosset (n.d) claims that during a 4–6-months period, they enhance their ability to identify tones, enjoy music and rhythms as well as produce new sounds. The following period of 7-12 months is highlighted by recognizing familiar objects and looking at people’s faces when they spoke. At the toddler period, receptive language develops according to the following scenario: 1-2 years child point out objects when naming them, follows a simple command, listen to simple stories and songs; 2-3 years emphasized by understanding two-step commands such as stop/go, hot/cold, etc.; during the 3-4 years period child understand simple questions and respond to them; at the 4-5 years period they know nearly everything said at home (Kid Sense, 2016).
On the other hand, expressive language expresses the ability of children to speak and use language (Bowen, 1998). From birth, babies make sounds and express either pleasure or pain (Rosset n.d). 0–3-month period is represented by different sounds such as “coos and goos” and cries define different emotions (Bowen, 1998). In the 4-6 months period, babies express vocal play and speech-like sounds (Rosset, n.d). During the 7-12 months period, babies tell their first words such as “mama,” “doggie,” and “no.” Being 1-2 years toddlers, children ask two-word questions, and at the 2-3 years stage, they expand their vocabulary (Bowen, 1998). At 3-4 years, children could combine four or more words, talk about other people and events that happened away from home. During the last stage of 4-5 years, children construct complete understood by adults sentences. At this moment, they could experience difficulties with pronouncing sounds such as “r,” “v,” and “th.”
How do children aged under 5 years learn language?
Language learning is a complicated process that combines integral components of human communication and cultural and social experiences. Language learning in children aged under five years differs from the other age groups as they mainly concentrate on oral communication patterns (EYLF, 2009). Successful language learning in preschool children covers the main four elements of spoken language, including phonological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic components (Fellowes, 2019c). Children use a limited range of functions related to language learning at the initial point. To expand the vision of langue learning, it is crucial to set a language register. Fellowes (2019c) stated that language register is the way language is applied for a specific purpose.
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Children at this stage should be taught how to identify the field or subject of matter, choose the correct tenor according to their social status, relationship and communication with other speakers, and mode that reflect formality, discussion, and conversation. Although it seems complicated to set these regulations in children speaking, listening competency could help regulate the language register. According to Fellowes (2019c), educators in children’s listening competency should consider the factors such as sound discrimination, working memory, and the listening context. At this stage, various defects related to the hearing and concentration process could be identified.
Children under the age of five usually have a short concentration span and do not readily accept long, highly informative lessons. Fahey (2012) declares that inquiring through play is one of the most effective ways of language learning among young children. The benefits of plays in language learning cover both cognitive-creative and socio-emotional spheres. The gains in cognitive-creative include better verbalization, richer vocabulary, increased curiosity, improved attention span, better problem-solving methods, higher language comprehension, enhanced innovation and imagination, and higher intellectual competence (Fahey, 2012). In contrast, achievements in socio-emotional areas cover more increased communication with peers in playing and group activities, reduced aggression, more empathy, improved understanding of other’s emotions, and better emotional and social adjustment (Fahey, 2012). Productive use of the system requires selecting resources, organizing, and storing materials needed for inquiry, formulating agreement with children, and establishing procedures for facilitating play (Fahey, 2012). This strategy could empower quick and effective language learning among preschool children.
Another problem associated with the language learning of young learners is the assessment methods. According to Hill (2012), the assessment should be conducted in accord with the language level of each child. Hill (2012) confirms that playful language is the easiest and the most productive way of language learning among young children. She points out that educators should practice open-ended questions, new words, sharing, and show-and-tell techniques (Hill, 2012). Moreover, language learning should follow the following structure: expansions, extensions, repetition, parallel talk, self-talk, vertical structuring, and fill-ins (Hill, 2012). On the other hand, Fellowes (2019f) preschool under the five-year-old should be assessed by verbal and non-verbal interaction, oral language, music, movement, dance, storytelling, and visual arts, and understanding of listening. Moreover, in assessing each child, it is essential to note the child’s oral characteristics and phases of development. According to Fellowes (2019b), the literature, including picture books and picture storybooks, are essential considerations in developing children’s imagination and concentration patterns. Combinations of introduced methods and concerns could help enhance the practice of preschool children’s language learning.
The role of family and educators in children’s language development.
Family and educators play a prior role in children’s language development. Both of these parties highly influence the language learning pattern by different methods. Fellowes (2019e) mentioned that parents, family, and siblings are the first instance in language learning formation. At the stage of infancy, children communicate mostly or only with parents and family. Lately, other figures such as childcare and preschool educators occur on their path. According to Fellowes (2019d), educators ultimately impact children when they start to listen and understand the language. Childcare is an essential instance as it creates a foundation for another educator by demonstrating conversational practice, reading stories, providing commentary on events and actions, and teaching simple songs and rhythms (Fellowes, 2019e).
The preschool educators provide an educational program for children that prepare them and assess their readiness for formal school experience. Fellowes (2019e) suggests that structured and non-structured practices improve oral interaction between educator and children; fulfill vocabulary; set a clear, fluent voice and intonation; encourage children’s talk during individual and group activities; use the open-ended question to increase children’s use of language. Additionally, the preschool environment creates obstacles that form children’s daily habits and behavior. For example, features of the preschool environment, such as the physical arrangement of the classroom, daily schedules, transitions between subjects, and daily routine, design children’s daily habits (Fellowes 2019e). Along with language learning, the preschool environment introduces the regime in the following educational institutions.
The importance of early childhood settings.
As previously mentioned, early childhood settings are critical in creating a consistent and good spoken language model for children. Fellowes (2019e) claims that early childhood settings are formed by the main two entities: the home setting and the classroom setting. Each of these settings is highly influenced by the environment and people included in it. These settings ultimately affect the social and physical development and the speaking and listening abilities of children. The places where young children can learn language and communication, including the home, preschool, childcare, and school, play a crucial role in oral language formation (Fellowes, 2019e). Therefore, each of the settings with a related environment will be discussed separately.
The home settings are the first and most significant setting in children’s oral language skills formation. From the first days of life, children are influenced by family’s speech, emotions, and language acquisitions (Fellowes, 2019e). The interaction model with parents, siblings, and other family members accelerates oral communication skills. Fellowes (2019e) mentioned that typical activities provided by family life, such as mealtime, bedtime, and shopping, give appropriate circumstances for the language settings’ arrangement. The main feature of the home settings is frequent individual adult-child communication patterns directed to enhance child’s speaking skills (Fellowes, 2019e). Other features are related to the interpretation of storybooks in a personal context and predominant accent on events, actions, and objects presented in the narrative (Fellowes, 2019e). The concentration and profound analysis associated with this practice help children not only develop oral language skills but also understand the meaning and context of the story. Moreover, in the home setting, communication and question patterns are initiated mainly by children (Fellowes, 2019e). Their behavior is not regulated by rules and involves only a limited number of people already emotionally close to children (Fellowes, 2019e). The home settings are usually prerequired for practical classroom settings.
Considering the classroom setting, it is essential to note that this type includes different institutions with a specific impact on a child’s language skill development. Nevertheless, they share standard features related to the setting they present. Firstly, unlike in the home setting, adults are distributed to a large group of children, reducing the number of unique adult-children communication patterns (Fellowes, 2019e). Secondly, most of the discussions are presented in the groups. Interpretation of each story or narrative is directed to the large group and its understanding (Fellowes, 2019e). Moreover, applied language is mostly decontextualized and includes events and actions outside children’s experiences and environment (Fellowes, 2019e). In addition, the educator appears as the central figure in regulating and communicating with children. Fellowes (2019e) stated that the features of the classroom settings also combine explanation and instruction of adults directed to the large group and interaction of children in small groups. Also, the topic of conversation, objectives, and procedures are introduced and controlled by the teacher. This is also accomplished by the ritualized language, social rules, specific behavioral scenarios, and verbal interaction (Fellowes, 2019e). These features of the classroom setting are modified and followed in the following educational levels.
For effective improvement and growth of oral communicational skills of children emphasized by early childhood settings, a decent collaboration between the home and classroom settings should be introduced. To assemble a powerful partnership, it is needed to raise some strategies to combine two types of environments. Fellowes (2019e) highlights that open communication between representatives of two groups, namely parents and educators, should be established. They should apply effective communication and feedback instruments, including questionnaires, planned and spontaneous conversation, a suggestion box, formal and informal meetings, family social events, and message boards (Fellowes, 2019e). This allows to conduct productive discussions and increases the involvement of both sides. Another strategy offered by Fellowes (2019e) is to organize parent education programs. As parents are empowered to be children’s first educators, they must know the correct way to teach the language from the moment of birth (Fellowes, 2019e). These courses will be a beneficial contribution to children’s language development.
Bowen, C., 1998. Ages and Stages Summary: Language Development 0-5 years.
EYLF, 2009. Belonging, being & becoming: the early years learning framework for Australia, Canberra: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments.
Fahey , J., 2012. Inquiring through play. In Ways to learn through inquiry; guiding children to deeper understanding . International Baccalaureate Organization, pp. 94–136.
Fellowes, J., 2019. Chapter 1 Introduction to Literacy: Definitions and Theoretical Perspectives. In G. Oakley, ed. Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education. Oxford University Press, pp. 2–13.
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Fellowes, J., 2019. Chapter 2 Children’s Literature. In G. Oakley, ed. Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education. Oxford University Press, pp. 15–39.
Fellowes, J., 2019. Chapter 3 Understanding Oral Language. In G. Oakley, ed. Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education. Oxford University Press, pp. 43–70.
Fellowes, J., 2019. Chapter 4 Oral Language: Perspectives and Phases. In G. Oakley, ed. Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education. Oxford University Press, pp. 72–91.
Fellowes, J., 2019. Chapter 5 Early Childhood Settings and Oral Language Learning and Development. In G. Oakley, ed. Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education. Oxford University Press, pp. 93–105.
Fellowes, J., 2019. Chapter 9 Assessing Speaking and Listening. In G. Oakley, ed. Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education. Oxford University Press, pp. 178–200.
Hill, S., 2012. Teaching strategies for encouraging language development. In Developing early literacy; assessment and teaching, 2nd ed. Eleanor Curtain Pub., pp. 45–53.
Hope Medical Centre, 2020. Importance of language development and literacy in children. Hope AMC.
Kid Sense Web, 2016. Stages of language development chart. Kid Sense Child Development.
Robins, R.H., Language. Encyclopædia Britannica.
Roskos, K., Tabors, P.O. & Lenhart, L.A., 2009. Creating a supportive learning environment for child talk. In Oral language and early literacy in preschool; talking, reading, and writing, 2nd ed. International Reading Association, pp. 39–53.
Rosset, R., Expressive language development in children aged 0-5 years: Child Development Institute. Expressive language development in children aged 0-5 years | Child Development Institute.
Rosset, R., Receptive language development in children aged 0-5 years. Child Development Institute.