How do children acquire language?

INTERCULTURAL EXPERIENCES AND HOW THEY CAN LEAD TO PARENT-EDUCATOR PARTNERSHIP CHALLENGES

As already discussed, language is an important way to express a person’s identity. Language contributes to who we are, where we come from and is the foundation to communicate with others. As your child is about to learn a new language, it would be useful to know the processes of language acquisition and how you can support your child on this journey. In this chapter you will also find information about different ways of learning a language, which will help you to better understand your child’s unique experience in a multilingual and multicultural environment.

How do children acquire language?

A child learns their first language early in life and they will most likely reach fluency in this language first. Although often referred to as a “mother tongue”, this term has gone out of favour as it does not express the fluid nature of language and that humans have the ability to acquire more than one language and experience shifts in which language is the strongest throughout their lives. This process is called “second language acquisition” and happens in two different ways: a natural, non-instructed way, usually occurring at the same time as the child’s first language acquisition or through an instructed way of learning, usually teaching in a group context. The latter one is more common with older children. Learning a first and a second language at an early age is a natural process and does not necessarily lead to difficulties in acquiring language in general. Your child is the one who leads and controls the process of language acquisition. You as family can be a guiding and supportive factor in the process.

A child’s ability to pick up a language can often be very surprising to adults. You may have noticed you have been using, for example, English as a ‘’ secret code language ‘’ to discuss issues you didn’t necessarily want your child to hear, only to have suddenly an extra little pair of ears listening and even replying. How did they pick up on it so fast you start to wonder?