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How do children pick up a language?

By Tammy on 12/11/2021

How do children pick up a language?

Learning to be fluent in a foreign language is one of the most difficult intellectual accomplishments an adult can achieve. But for a child, language learning is almost effortless. 

Birth: When babies are born, they can hear and distinguish all the sounds in all the languages in the world. 

4 months: As early as 4 months, infants can distinguish between language sounds and other noises. For instance, they know the difference between a spoken word and a clap. 

6 months: By 6 months, babies may start to babble and coo and this is the first sign that the baby is learning a language. 

12 months: At a year old, babies would have dropped the sounds that are not part of the language that they are learning. 

Linguists propose the critical period hypothesis, noting that after the age of puberty (12-15 years), the language acquisition device in the brains of children ceases to function and the ability to learn language with native fluency essentially disappears. 

3 Theories in Language Development 

  • Imitation hypothesis where children learn the sounds of the language/languages that they hear around them. 
  • Reinforcement hypothesis where children learn by positive reinforcement and by being corrected when they make a mistake
  • Interactionist hypothesis where children use their innate language abilities to extract the rules of the language from their environment

The best way to promote language development for your child is simply to talk to him/her. They learn by experiencing and listening to the world around them, so the more exposure they get, the more developed their language skills would be. Be it through reading or everyday conversations, incorporate new vocabulary into proper sentences and correct your child immediately if he/she makes a mistake!

References: Rowe & Levine (2016) A Concise Introduction to Linguistics