With language acquisition (also: language development ) refers to the acquisition of a first language by the growing up child usually. In addition to monolingual language acquisition, there is also double or multiple language acquisition, the simultaneous acquisition of two or more languages by a child. Acquiring the first or mother tongue is also known as first language acquisition. As second language acquisition research means the acquisition of a second language after acquisition of the first, usually in the natural environment through everyday communication in the street or while shopping. First and second language acquisition contrast with foreign language acquisition. Here the language is usually taught in lessons within educational institutions such as schools , with the help of a curriculum and didactic concepts. In research, foreign language acquisition is therefore not so much referred to as acquisition, but rather as language learning , whereby the boundary between acquisition and learning cannot always be clearly drawn.
The acquisition of the first language is an object of research in various scientific disciplines, including above all psycholinguistics in particular and linguistics in general and developmental psychology , as well as biology , anthropology and research on non-verbal communication . Especially in language learning even further plays Fremdsprachendidaktik an important role.
Forms of language acquisition
A distinction is essentially made between the following forms of language acquisition or language acquisition:
- Acquisition of the child's first language (L1), colloquially also called mother tongue , even if other caregivers than the mother may play a role
- double or multiple first language acquisition: parallel acquisition of two or more languages as a child ( bilingualism )
- Acquisition of a second language (L2) in a “natural” context
- Acquisition of a foreign language in controlled learning situations (lessons, courses)
The literature differentiates between second and foreign languages differently. Some researchers refer to any language learned second after acquiring the first language as a second language. Other researchers only name languages that are acquired in addition to the first language in an everyday context (e.g. on the street, while shopping or at work) as second languages. A classic example of such acquisition of a second language is acquisition of German by migrants who, for example, in childhood or adulthood. B. immigrate to Germany and learn German there in everyday life without having to go through formal lessons. This second language is therefore an additional language to the first language, which minorities also need to cope with everyday life. In contrast to this second language, according to the researchers, a foreign language is a language that is systematically learned through controlled language teaching. Other researchers do without a distinction between second and foreign languages and instead speak of uncontrolled and controlled second language acquisition. In this context, it is often said that children and adults “acquire” a second language uncontrollably while a language is “learned” in school. Often the foreign language learned in school is not used in everyday life, in contrast to the uncontrolled second language acquired “on the street”.
Phases of first language acquisition
In the acquisition of the first language one can observe certain phases that are passed through one after the other and in which the child gradually acquires the sounds, the vocabulary and the grammar of the first language.
The ear is one of the first organs to function in humans. One week after fertilization, the ears begin to form on the embryo. After about four and a half months, the hearing organ ( labyrinth with cochlea ) is fully developed and has reached its final size. This enables the fetus to have its first language experience. Because of the intrauterine conditions ( uterus and amniotic fluid act like a low-pass filter), perception is primarily limited to prosodic aspects, the speech melody. Low frequencies of up to 500–700 Hz are transmitted, the pressure level drops significantly with increasing frequency. Many of the existing outside noises are not masked by biological noises. The level of very low frequencies (<300 Hz) reaches values similar to those ex utero. The maternal voice and voices near the mother stand out clearly against the background noise (if they are above 100 Hz) and, in addition to prosodic properties, some phonemes are also understandable. The attenuation of the maternal voice is very slight, up to and including amplification by the bone conduction .
So it happens that children can recognize their mother's voice immediately after birth, as well as their mother tongue and stories or melodies that they were often presented with during pregnancy. This recognition is based on the prosodic factors; they cannot distinguish sound sequences without prosodic information. However, current studies suggest that children in the womb can already hear more of the language and can differentiate between different voices and separate syllables.
So you can tell from the scream melody of babies from a French or German background where they come from. The former prefer rising melody patterns, while the latter produce falling patterns more frequently.
From birth to the 20th month
- 6 to 8 weeks
- Babies refine their hearing skills and look for the sources of sounds in their environment that have certain prosodic characteristics. Newborns produce sounds reflexively, e.g. B. when eating. At this stage it is not yet possible to speak of consciously imitating sounds. Screaming serves as an expression of discomfort and a desire for care. The communicative function of language is learned through reactions of the caregiver and the screaming becomes more differentiated.
Preferences of infants when taking breaks, when there are interruptions in naturally structured texts compared to artificial texts, and preferences of toddlers when what is said and what is said in contrast to the mismatch indicate an early “grammatical understanding” of the children.
- 2 to 4 months
- The baby's neural structures have developed so far that they can now laugh and produce their first sounds, mostly vowels , and a short time later also syllables . There are also original sounds such as gurgling, babbling, smacking, growling or blowing sounds . Before the baby speaks, it is able to grasp the meaning of signs ( sign language ) and use them to express itself.
- 5 to 9 months
- The so-called canonical babbling (see also: idiolalia ) occurs, which is characterized by the doubling of known syllables and represents the preliminary stage for word formation . Disturbances in the occurrence of babbling are a good predictor of later speech disturbances . This exercise behavior is often overestimated by parents when the child says, for example, "mom" or "dad" and thus apparently names a person. In fact, these chains of sounds are likely to come about by chance insofar as the sounds in question are easy to form. The child can only associate words with meanings later, when phonological components of the language are established. Diverse sensorimotor experiences are a prerequisite for increasing language understanding. Furthermore, sentence melodies and speech rhythms are practiced.
- 10 to 14 months
- For the first time, the toddler forms simple words which are usually very specific “social” words and are only used in context , such as “eat” and “sleep”. Other words are initially object-constant and are only articulated when the aforementioned comes into contact with the eyes. Forerunners are the proto-words in which the child first connects vocalizations with certain situations, objects, people and activities. The toddler forms one-word sentences. It is cognitively able to talk about what is absent.
- 18 months
- Some children have reached the 50-word mark (expressive lexicon) here. This is seen as important because from here on word acquisition takes place much faster, the vocabulary explosion takes place, which is based on the knowledge that all words have a semantic content and thus all things can be named. The child follows simple double assignments. The first question age occurs, what questions (description) and where questions are asked.
Research on the language center in the brain shows that a number of relatively broadly distributed areas are involved in language processing and that most language processing areas develop in the dominant hemisphere in the second year of life. In the human embryo, the ear is one of the first organs to be fully developed after four and a half months and can acquire first language impressions. Deaf or hard of hearing people who are not receiving therapy (with a hearing aid or cochlear implant ) fall silent. For an almost natural language development, auditory-verbal therapy must be started in the first year of life .
By this age, children have typically reached the “magic 50” spoken word. If they do not reach the minimum number of 50 words, they are called late talkers . They use everyday words they heard at home and speak simple two-word sentences. In addition, at this age they learn their first songs. Word creations occur and the child understands even more statements from familiar everyday life than before. At around 2½ years of age, the word "I" is used, and it also forms echolalia of sentences or parts of sentences.
During the development of the syntax there can be over-regulation (e.g. in the inflection of irregular verbs according to the pattern of regular verbs), which cannot be interpreted as a lag in development (in the sense of under-regulation).
4 to 5 years
The language is now understandable, but longer or more complex words may still have a different pronunciation. In the case of consonant clusters, individual consonants can be left out, e.g. B. when replacing “syringe” with “point” (deletion process). The omission of unstressed syllables (syllable reduction) such as B. the replacement of "Lokomotive" by "Lokotive" occurs. Active vocabulary increases rapidly and most children this age can follow a conversation.
From kindergarten age, the externally acquired language is interiorized. From now on, language is not only the medium of silent thinking, but also the most important aid in coping with psychological tasks (e.g. when “keeping” things).
Children learn language neither simply according to the behavioristic principle of operant conditioning nor according to the rationalistic notions of unconscious rules that are realized in due course, but rather according to the cultural-historical approach of language, which is based on the communicative function of language in interactions with other people and speaking does not presuppose thinking in a cognitivistic way, but reaches so-called inner processes through speaking.
Learned behaviors leave traces in the cortex, but the corresponding neural patterns are not constantly anchored in the sense of a static organization or can be localized once and for all. These patterns are reorganized during the development of the child, and the microstructures also change in the following phases of life in the sense of so-called neuronal plasticity.
Time window in language development
In language development research, various time windows are discussed during which certain language developments are only possible. Two time windows coincide with recent research in experimental neurophysiology and neuroscience about the existence of a critical (permanently fixed) and a sensitive (particularly susceptible) period in human development. They confirm the importance of early detection ( newborn hearing screening) and intervention (hearing amplification, hearing education) for speech development in hearing-impaired children.
The first time window (critical period) extends up to 8–9 months. In the 1970s, while providing deaf infants with bilateral hearing aids, speech therapist Ciwa Griffiths discovered that the hearing aids could be removed after a few months because the babies had developed normal hearing. Their clinical study from 1969 to 1973 of 21 deaf infants showed that 67% of the infants who participated in the study and received hearing aids up to 8 months of age developed normal hearing, while none of the infants who did so after 8 months ago hearing aids were given, which was the case.
In a similar study carried out by otologist Arpad Götze at Janos Spital in Budapest , Hungary 1978–1981 with 68 deaf infants, 51 (75%) were able to develop normal hearing, the other 17 had deaf parents or were only receiving their hearing aids after 8.5 months.
Alison Gopnik from the University of California showed that seven-month-old Japanese and American babies could distinguish equally well between the sounds “r” and “l”, which Japanese babies couldn't after ten months was more possible because the Japanese language does not recognize this distinction and therefore does not support it. This study confirms the results of brain research that the brain, controlled by the ears, specializes in the mother tongue and therefore restricts foreign sounds that it cannot hear in the language environment after 8–9 months. In the case of deaf children who receive no sensory input at all, the restriction is even more massive.
A second time window (sensitive period) ranges from 8 or 9 months to around 3.5 years and is viewed as the maturity period for language development . The longer acoustic input is withheld from the brain, the greater the resulting sensory deprivation , which causes a lack of sensory stimulation of the brain. Not only does sensory deprivation prevent auditory learning, it also prevents neural growth. In the absence of normal stimulation, there is a sensitive period up to about 3.5 years, during which the human central auditory system remains maximally plastic, after the age of 7, plasticity is greatly reduced.
In language acquisition research, a critical period has also been discussed for a long time, after which first language acquisition is no longer possible or is no longer completely possible. As the beginning of the critical period, the linguist Eric Heinz Lenneberg set the first appearance of multi-word utterances, as the end of puberty. This so-called critical period hypothesis has been discussed controversially in research. Some evidence has been found to support this. In the strong form as formulated by Lenneberg (language acquisition only between the occurrence of multiple word utterances and before puberty), it is no longer tenable.
Theories explaining first language acquisition
The acquisition of the first language among children is particularly noteworthy because children also acquire language rules for which there is no evidence in their everyday life, i.e. which hardly appear in the everyday language they are confronted with. Only a limited number of all the rules of the mother tongue are tried out. Deviations from the norms of the mother tongue are systematic. Even if children are not corrected linguistically by their parents, they acquire the mother tongue completely. The situation is similar with the acquisition of a second language that is acquired parallel to the first language, the bilingual first language acquisition. Researchers have therefore tried to find explanations for this seemingly effortless acquisition of the first language.
The way in which language acquisition develops is influenced by social, biological, and cognitive factors. For its part, language is a decisive factor in cognitive development.
There were early experiments to find out if there was an inherited universal human language. The experiments of the pharaoh Psammetich I , the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick II and Jacob IV all failed. In the last two experiments, the test children died because they were only allowed to be washed but not allowed to speak to them or to establish an emotional relationship.
There are various theoretical approaches to the development of language today, the best known being the nativistic , cognitive and interactive approaches . While the nativists assume the existence of a hereditary universal grammar (language structure), the cognitive approach takes the view that the first linguistic categories arise from sensorimotor structures, and the representatives of social interaction that language is acquired through the interaction of mother and child. The question of whether language acquisition is genetically determined or influenced by the child's experience is controversial in research. The discussion is also under the heading of nature vs. nurture (Eng. 'nature versus education') entered the literature.
Nativistic explanations of language acquisition
The explanatory approach of nativism assumes that children have an innate module in the brain that is specially reserved for language, which is activated by language input and then expressed in a language-specific manner. The nativistic approach goes back, among other things, to Noam Chomsky, who argues that children must have an innate ability to speak, because at the end of the language acquisition they will master the language fluently and without errors, although the input they hear contains errors and not all linguistic ones Contains constructions that are possible in one language. Chomsky thus contradicts the explanatory approach of the behaviorist B. F. Skinner , who claims that language acquisition can be explained by imitating linguistic input.
Chomsky has revised his thesis about the language module in the brain several times: He initially assumed that children have a language acquisition mechanism ( Language Acquisition Device , LAD) with which they evaluate linguistic input and on the basis of which they can make grammatical and ungrammatic utterances in the language find out. However, he later gave up in favor of the principles-and-parameters theory , according to which children have a universal grammar that is common to all languages. The child thus already has all innate universal language principles and only needs to set parameters, triggered by linguistic input, that reflect the variation in the different languages.
Findings from neurolinguistics and genetics are also used as arguments for an innate language module. Since the discovery of the FOXP2 gene, which is relevant for language acquisition and vocal utterance, there has been the theory that genetic factors play a role in language acquisition.
Nativism has been criticized many times, among other things because the innate knowledge claimed in the theory cannot be empirically proven. In addition, critics argue that the independence (autonomy) of language ability from other cognitive processes assumed by Chomsky does not coincide with some research results: For example, research on cognitively impaired children with Williams syndrome shows that their language ability is also restricted, which is against one possible autonomy of the language module.
Cognitivistic approaches to explaining language acquisition
The cognitivistic explanations deny a module in the brain that is specifically reserved for language and rather attribute language acquisition to the child's general cognitive development. According to the cognitivists, language acquisition is part of the development of intelligence and runs parallel to the development of sensorimotor intelligence. The most important representative of the cognitivists is the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget , whose developmental model of intelligence in children laid the basis for the cognitivistic explanatory approach to language acquisition.
According to Piaget, language acquisition is inextricably linked to the child's cognitive development and not a separate process. According to Piaget, the development of intelligence in children is a construction process: the child receives input from outside, processes these stimuli and builds up new knowledge structures on this basis. According to Piaget, language acquisition can only take place if certain cognitive requirements are met. For language, it is particularly necessary that the child has already gone through some developmental phases of sensorimotor intelligence. The child is initially limited to the direct perception of objects and to their own actions and experiences. Only when the child can form inner ideas of what has been perceived beforehand, e.g. For example, from an object that no longer exists, the child is able to learn language, because the child has thus grasped one of the most important functions of language: Language serves as a symbol to represent what has been perceived before.
Piaget's developmental approach focuses more on the general development of intelligence, which is why questions about the explanation of the acquisition of sentence structure, word meaning acquisition and communication skills of the child were only developed by his employees and later representatives of cognitivism.
Piaget's theory of intelligence and language development has been criticized on various levels. On the one hand, empirical data from more recent studies speak against some of Piaget's assumptions: Some studies show, for example, that infants have more skills than Piaget assumed; babies at the age of 3 to 4 months already have a simple understanding of numbers and quantities, which, according to Piaget, will only develop later. Piaget's step model of a phased development, in which one step builds on the other, is also not supported by empirical data. Rather, studies show that after initial progress, there are breaks in linguistic development again, which is not covered by the step model. Criticism has also been made for conceptual and methodological reasons: A central point of Piaget's work is that cognitive development is a prerequisite for linguistic development. Critics say that just because cognitive development precedes language development does not necessarily mean that there is a causal relationship.
Interactionist approaches to explaining first language acquisition assume that language acquisition is the result of an interaction between child development processes and external influences, for example by caregivers such as parents. This explanatory approach represents a middle ground between nativism, which focuses on the child's innate language ability, and cognitivism, which emphasizes the external influence on the child. The basic ideas behind the interactionist explanations go back to the linguist Lev Semjonowitsch Wygotski , who designed a concept for the development of language and thought in the 1930s. An important thought by Vygotsky was the central role of caregivers, such as parents, in language acquisition. According to this approach, language is primarily acquired through interaction between the child and the people around him.
The phenomenon of baby talk or motherese (also known as ' nurse's language ') has received special attention in interactionist explanations . Researchers tried to work out that caregivers such as the mother of the child adapts their language to the needs and stage of development of the baby, for example through a higher pitch, clear intonation or a simplified sentence structure to make language learning easier for the child. Jerome Bruner is a proponent of this approach, who particularly emphasizes the role of the mother in language acquisition. The child acquires the language through interaction with their caregivers, such as their parents, who make their communicative intentions clear to the child through their reactions to the child and who motivate the child to communicate.
Other approaches such as B. those of the linguist Michael Tomasello and his coworkers place language acquisition in the context of cultural, biological and psycholinguistic processes. According to Tomasello, language acquisition is learning through the efforts of the child to understand the intentions of the interlocutor and finally to construct a grammar from the linguistic input.
The interactionist explanations were also criticized in part. Some studies have been accused of making too simple an assumption that language acquisition is essentially parental imitation. Furthermore, in connection with Baby Talk, it was pointed out that this language of the parents, which is specially adapted to the child, is more of a phenomenon of the western middle class and cannot be generalized to other social classes or other cultures.
An early approach, which at the beginning of the 20th century focuses more on the social factors in language acquisition, is that of Alfred Adler . He looks at the origin of language in people's social life. He sees language as a product and binding agent of the common life of people, as a common creation of humanity and as a result of the community feeling . Language would be completely superfluous for a single living being. He sees evidence of this connection in the fact that people who grow up under conditions in which connection with other people is difficult or impossible, or who refuse to connect, almost regularly suffer from a lack of language or language skills . For him, language has a profound meaning for the development of the human soul, because logical thinking is only possible if language is used to form generally valid concepts.
Language acquisition disorders and language support
Disorders of language acquisition
There are numerous external and internal influences that can lead to speech disorders . A distinction is made between the following types of speech disorders in children:
- Language development disorders
- Organically caused language disorders
- Interactive language disorders
The language development disorders include dyslalia (or stammering), dysgramatism and lexical occupational disorder. While the formation of sentences is disturbed in dysgrammatism, the child's vocabulary is affected in lexical occupational disorder. Organically caused speech disorders include voice disorders such as constant whispering and childhood aphasia ( loss of speech ). Interactively caused speech disorders are stuttering , rumbling and mutism .
Various causes are conceivable for speech disorders in children. In the case of long-term disorders or delays or even a lack of language development, one should think of hearing impairments , developmental delays , intellectual disabilities or autism . There is, however, a small group of children (around 5–8% of a year) whose speech development disorder cannot be attributed to serious emotional or social problems, poor hearing, impaired speech organs, mental retardation, or neuronal damage. This heterogeneous group of children has a delayed onset of language acquisition, a slower course of language acquisition and deficits in language. This type of language disorder is known as specific language development disorder (SES).
The 50-word rule applies as a criterion for a language development disorder, be it specific or embedded in other symptoms: If children actively use fewer than 50 different words at the time of their 2nd birthday, they are considered late talkers . Then further diagnostics (hearing test, development test, usually as part of the child screening examination U7) are required. Parents should also seek advice on how they can promote their child's language development. In contrast to children with speech development disorders, late talkers do not require speech therapy based on current knowledge. Some of the children are so-called "linguistic late bloomer" (English. Late Bloomer ) and have until 3rd birthday made the connection.
Language promotion is the effort to bring children / adolescents up to the level of development of their peers by confronting them with appropriate methods that enable progress.
The term is most often found in pre-school education - u. A. also in the pedagogy of the primary level of the school system and in the language schools. Basically, however, language support is an endeavor that is demanded from all educational institutions - and recently also from families - today. Language promotion is of great importance when children have deficits in language comprehension or expression in the course of their development (compared to their peers); It makes sense then to help the child compensate for these deficits through targeted linguistic interactions. The activity of the child is required - additional passive consumption of language (e.g. in front of the television set) has no (supportive) effect. A study from 2009 shows that children under three years of age hardly benefit from television programs or videos specially designed for toddlers "to promote language learning ": toddlers were only able to learn new verbs if an adult took them along actively supported.
The results of language level surveys show that children with DaZ (German as a second language) are significantly more affected by language acquisition problems than children with German as their first language. In addition to multilingualism, the social situation in which the children's families find themselves turned out to be a decisive indicator for the children's language skills. Children with DaZ and children from socially disadvantaged families have a special need for language support measures, which is why the federal states finance different language support concepts in preschool and school, which these children have as their main target group.
Language promotion in kindergartens and primary schools is an interdisciplinary field in which various sciences are involved. These sciences, including learning and developmental psychology , neurophysiology and neurobiology as well as linguistics with its sub-disciplines ( phonetics , phonology , syntax , semantics and pragmatics ), are constantly developing the theories relevant to language promotion. The task of pedagogical practice is to implement the latest scientific findings in day-to-day day care centers and to make them usable in specific applications.
Especially in the field of preschool language support (also in the field of primary school education) there is now a rich literature that makes it easy for professionals and laypeople (parents) to support. In periodicals ( Kindergarten Today , Small & Large , World of the Child , etc.), articles on language development appear relatively regularly, which shows that the topic is topical.
Language level survey
With the results of the first PISA studies, which since 2000 have provided information about the educational level of 15-year-old schoolchildren in Germany every three years in an international comparison, language promotion became the focus of public interest. It turned out that Germany's students are in the lower third of the 31 OECD1 member states tested. Since attendance at kindergarten has been the first level of education in the education system for over 30 years and language skills are crucial for further school success until school enrollment, kindergarten pedagogy has become the focus of the educational policy debate. All federal states have now started to determine the language skills of children using a variety of different language level assessment procedures . For information on North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony-Anhalt, see Delfin-4, for example . With LiSe-DaZ there is now a reliable test procedure with which educators can also check the language development of multilingual children.
Second and foreign language acquisition
Second language acquisition is the acquisition of a second language after acquiring a first one, usually in a natural environment, i.e. H. through everyday communication, for example on the street or in shops. When learning a foreign language, the language is usually taught in lessons within educational institutions such as schools , with the help of a curriculum and didactic concepts. In research, foreign language acquisition is therefore not so much referred to as acquisition, but rather as language learning , whereby the boundary between acquisition and learning cannot always be clearly drawn.
While the first language is usually acquired completely and fluently, the acquisition of a second or foreign language can be completed more or less successfully. For example, a stage of fossilization can be observed especially in the case of second language acquisition by immigrants, a stage in which language acquisition is not yet fully completed but remains at the stage. The success of acquiring a second and foreign language depends on various external and internal factors. External factors include the social environment, the age of the learner, the prestige of the target language with the learner and the relevance of the learning content for the learner. Internal factors include command of the first language, spoken and written, the general intelligence of the learner, the purpose of language acquisition (e.g. dealing with another culture or acquiring a language for work) and the learner's motivation. The similarity between the first language and the second or foreign language also play a role.
The role of age in second and foreign language acquisition is particularly controversial. Under the keyword “critical period” or “critical phase”, an age is assumed up to which a second language can be acquired fluently: If a child is confronted with another language at the age of three, according to the theory, this can also be up to Correctly acquire them at the beginning of school. The second language acquisition is partly based on the same principles as the first language acquisition. That changes when a critical phase is reached. This thesis of a critical phase was represented and made popular by Eric Heinz Lenneberg, among others. The thesis of the critical phase is now viewed in a very differentiated manner and is no longer uncritically assumed that young learners have a general advantage in acquiring pronunciation, vocabulary and sentence structure. The research results only see an advantage for young learners in pronunciation.
Theories on second and foreign language acquisition
There are also various theoretical approaches to second and foreign language acquisition that aim to explain the process and the chances of success of language acquisition. These theories include the contrastive hypothesis , which distinguishes the success of language acquisition from the more or less pronounced differences between the first and second language, or the hypothesis of an interlanguage , which states that learners have an individual, provisional experience in the course of second and foreign language acquisition Develop a learner's language that has linguistic characteristics from both the first and target languages.
- Holophrastic language structure
- Child language
- Language Acquisition Act
- Language learning advice
- Language game
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Explanatory approaches to language acquisition
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Disorders of language acquisition
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