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What Is the Role of Age in First Language Acquisition?

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‘First Language Acquisition’ or also known as the ‘Child Language Acquisition’ is a process whereby children from infancy through early school years acquire their first languages. The term ‘First Language Acquisition’ or ‘FLA’ can be referred to the field that investigates the process by which children develop to use words and sentences in their first language, to communicate with other people.

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At a few months of age, infants begin to babble and this is the early stage of developing language acquisition, although many native sounds may be absent and there may be very few consonant sounds and a large amount of repeated syllables. From this comes the holophrastic stage where infants begin to utter first words such as mama and dada, which derive from babbling. This continues and results in an infant developing a vocabulary. By two years and half years of age, most children can speak in a sentence of several words but the grammar is not complete, however by six years of age, the grammar should be near to one of an adult. Many language acquisition theories have been introduced as ideas of how a child achieves their first language

Four main thought processes have been introduced, which provide paradigms in guiding a course in language acquisition. These are imitation, where a child learns from imitating and repeating what they hear, innateness, where a child is born with an innate capacity for learning the human language, cognition, where a child first becomes aware of a concept and only afterwards acquire the correct words and patterns to convey the concept, and lastly and more recently connectionism. However there is also the view that maternal/parental input has a degree of responsibility for language acquisition. The theory behind imitation was highly influential in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It was thought during this time that language was a process of imitation and reinforcement. The view was that children were empty vessels that could be filled with linguistic habits and therefore entered the language learning process. In this process, learning was step by step, imitation, repetition, memorisation, controlled drilling and lastly, reinforcement, where reinforcement could be either positive or negative. The popular belief is that children learn by imitating the utterances heard around them and that imitation has an important role in phonological development. A child’s response is only strengthened by responses, reactions, repetitions and corrections that adults give and thus allows language practice. Limitations that came from the imitation theory resulted, in the 1960’s, in an alternative theory of innateness allowing an alternative account of language acquisition. The main argument was that children were born with an innate capacity to learn and develop their first language. Therefore, innateness makes the process of learning a language much easier than it otherwise would be. Naturally, the human brain is ready for language in the sense that children are regularly exposed to speech and therefore discover and begin to structure principles for language.

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Once children reach the age of eighteen months old, or within a few months of their first one-word utterances, children should be heading into the two-word stage where they would put together two successive single words, for example, “Mommy . . . cookie” (Crain and Lillo-Martin 27). Before long they would be putting two-word combinations together to form primitive two-word sentences, such as, “more milk”. Again, at this point there is also a universal outlook on the words the children are producing at this stage, where “an examination of children’s two-word utterances in many different language communities has suggested that everywhere in the world children at this stage are expressing the same kinds of thoughts and intentions in the same kinds of utterances” (Gleason and Ratner 316). The children are expressing themselves with sentences that are limited in meaning and have yet to master the grammatical forms of the language such as number, gender, function words. One is called referential style and the other expressive. Referential style is associated with children that have an early vocabulary composed almost exclusively of nouns, where their first productions consist of isolated, monosyllabic words. Opposed to referential style is the expressive style where the children would “concentrate their attention more on intonation contours and the syllabic rhythm of words and sentences” (Boysson-Bardies 151). Their early vocabulary would contain fewer nouns and more predicates as in verbs and adjectives and also words and phrases that express relations and activities such as no, more, bye-bye, hi and so on. They would also match two words together and pronounce them as one word which is also known as the gestalt style of learning, e.g

gimmedat and allgone. These two styles, referential and expressive, are, in fact, also known as analytic and gestalt.

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In the long run, some people are more motivated to achieve a native like proficiency and they will try more, but other they just want to speak a second language and be able to understand them, nothing else. And for the third part, if there is a critical period, I will agree as they say the children are like sponge, I will also agree with the part that says there is a time you stop learning as I believe in some point in your life you cannot handle new things, new words or new grammar but it happen in different stages for every person.

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Boysson-Bardies, Bénédicte de. How Language Comes to Children, From Birth to Two Years. Trans. Malcolm DeBevoise. London: Cambridge, 1999. Print.

Clark, Eve V. First language acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Garman, Michael. Language acquisition: Studies in first language development. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. Print.

Gleason, Jean Berko. The Development of Language. 6 th ed. Boston: Pearson, Allyn and Bacon, 2005. Print.

Gleason, Jean Berko and Nan Bernstein Ratner. Psycholinguistics. 2nd ed. USA: Harcourt Brace, 1993. Print.

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