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Language Acquisition: How does your child learn to talk?

There are three main theories relating to how your child acquires language.

  1. The ‘Behaviourist’ which places great importance on children imitating the language of others supported by reinforcement. This theory suggests children first need to hear words and phrases, and then have reason to speak them, before thinking about writing them down.  


  1. The ‘Nativist’ theory suggests that children are pre-programmed to learn a rule governed language system. The theorist associated with this is Noam Chomsky, who explained that all humans have a inborn language acquisition device (LAD).  He concluded that as children learn language so effortlessly, without understanding the grammar or rules behind it, they must therefore have a mechanism to acquire language in this way.


  1. The ‘Social Interactionist’ theory views the importance of the social setting and the role of the adult as essential to language growth. Vygotsky’s theory relating to ‘the zone of proximal development’ also suggests that through adult support children’s language and thinking can be extended. According to a study conducted the more conversation opportunities children are exposed to with family the faster their rate of progress in learning language (Wells, Bristol Study, 1995).

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