Infant Language Acquisition

 Image Hi there,

Over the years, I have discovered that language acquisition is not really a factor prioritised during childhood development. African children are exposed to a wide range of languages, while in other continents, the use of slangs and societal lingua franca is the norm. As such, efficient communication is often ignored in childhood development.

For an Infant just beginning to interact with the surrounding world, it is imperative that he quickly become proficient in his native language. While developing a vocabulary and the ability to communicate using it are obviously important steps in the process, an infant must first be able to learn from the various streams of audible communication around him. To that end, during the course of the first few months of development, an infant will absorb the rhythmic patterns and sequences of sounds that characterise his language, and will begin to differentiate between the meanings of various pitch and stress changes.

However, it is important to recognise that such learning does not take place in a vacuum. Infants must confront these language acquisition challenges in an environment where, quite frequently, several streams of communication or noise are occurring simultaneously. In other words, infants must not only learn how to segment individual speech streams into their component words, but they must also be able to distinguish between concurrent streams of sound.

Consider,  for example, an infant being spoken to by his mother. Before he can learn from the nuances of his mother’s speech, he must first separate from the sounds of the dishwasher, the family dog, the bus outside, and possibly background noise in form of speech, which may be the television or a ravelling sibling.

How then, do infants wade through such a murky conglomeration of audible stimuli? While most infants are capable of separating two different voices  despite the presence of additional, competing streams of sound, this capability is predicated upon several specific conditions.

First, infants are better able to learn from a particular speech stream when that voice is louder than any of the competing streams of background speech; when two voices are of equal amplitude, infants typically demonstrate little preference towards one stream or the other. Most likely, equally loud competing loud streams, for the infant, become combined into a single stream that necessarily contains unfamiliar patterns and sounds that can quite easily induce confusion. Secondly, an infant is more likely to attend to a particular voice when it is perceived as more familiar than the other stream. When an infant, for example, is presented with a voice stream spoken by his mother and a background stream delivered by an unfamiliar voice, usually he can easily separate out her voice from the distraction of the background stream. By using these simple yet important cues, an infant can become quite adept at concentrating on a single stream of communication, and therefore, become more capable at learning the invaluable characteristics and rules of his native language. Fascinating isn’t it?

As a Nigerian, we learn our native languages from the home and the society, while in school, English Language is the medium of teaching. So becoming adept in english poses a problem for the average Nigerian. So to finish up, the following points are how to ensure good speech acquisition. Language acquisition is entirely dependent on the infants environment, an infant with constant vocal interaction with his parents would experience accelerated language acquisition and finally, eliminating unfamiliar voices from an infant’s environment would facilitate language acquisition. Fortunately, as an adult, the principles are the same, environment, surrounding self with people who speak the language but with only one exception, READING!!! 



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