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Early language learning

The learning of the mother tongue already begins in the womb. Prosody guides the language acquisition process. The child orients itself to stressed parts of speech, to the contour (melodic slurs) and above all to the pauses. For this, the child absolutely needs a human role model. When dealing with babies, adults use a special form of language, the so-called "motherese language". Linguistic role models enable the child to use language as an object of the world and its actions.


Intonation → Intonation refers to the perceived change in pitch over time in a word (known as word melody), a sentence (sentence melody) or during an entire speech act (in the sense of speech melody).

Melodic bow → short melodic, musical phrase.

Motherese language → English term for nurse language; universal language behaviour in dealing with babies, in which speech is slower.

Nurse language → see motherese language

Pitch → Pitch refers to the frequency of an audible sound, measured in vibrations per unit of time. Along with duration, loudness and timbre, it is an essential characteristic of musical notes and spoken language vowels.

Contour → The melodic course of a statement

Sound intensity → Sounds we hear are vibrations of air pressure that reach our eardrums. These are conducted to the brain and converted into information there. The intensity of these sounds is measured in the unit of measurement decibel (dB).

Articulation patterns → Basic patterns of pronunciation.

Bootstrapping → Children use existing language knowledge to build up new language knowledge, even at a different language level.

Lexicon → The mental lexicon is similar to a dictionary, but unlike the latter, the entries are not arranged alphabetically. Instead, they are organised and systematically structured, unlimited in content and dynamic. Word form and word meaning are stored separately. It is assumed that the words in the mental lexicon are recalled unconsciously.


Linguistic development

The development of articulation and auditory perception (phonetic competence) is the indispensable basis for linguistic communication in the oral domain. Without this prerequisite, correct speech cannot be learned. This includes the perception, differentiation and production of sounds, syllables and words, as well as units that go beyond the level of sounds and syllables (words and sentences in their typical intonation). The acquisition of phonetic skills begins before birth and is usually largely completed within the first few years of life.

Thus, learning the mother tongue begins from the mother's womb. The ears, as sensory organs, mature very early, and a fetus in the sixth month of pregnancy can perceive the characteristic accent of its mother's tongue. You can think of this as when your neighbor plays his music really loud and you hear mostly the bass. The rhythm provided by accents, and subsequently by other musical-dynamic markings, are not only specific to a language. These are strong sensory impressions and guide the entire development of language. The child orients himself by the accented parts of the speech, by the contour (melodic arc) and especially by the pauses.

To learn a language, the child absolutely needs a human model. When dealing with babies, adults use a special form of language, the so-called "mother language". This way of speaking is universal and corresponds to the needs of the child who learns in a special way: it is spoken more slowly, the voice is higher, the emphasis is exaggerated. Maintain eye contact with the child and articulate in such a way that the child can observe and imitate the articulation movements.

Even if some skills are learned in parallel in the process of acquiring the mother tongue, a certain sequence can be assumed in this learning process. The dynamic features of language - rhythm, stress, loudness, pitch, pauses - function throughout the language acquisition process as a railing on which children orient themselves. These markers are also essential for communication between adults. They guarantee the functioning of linguistic communication and are therefore the functional elements of language.

From here, the child develops his auditory categories and, at the same time, the articulating categories of sounds from the surrounding language(s). On this basis, however, it is possible for him to perceive and store elements from other linguistic domains. Thus, the accent, rhythm, pauses, etc. allow the recognition of segments that belong to each other (such as grammatical ones). This skill is called "bootstrapping". The recognition of single words also succeeds at a very early age of about four months. In a "presentation phase", the target words are pronounced several times with special emphasis. With a relatively small vocabulary of less than 50 words, the child trains the grammatical structures and functional elements of the language. Only when the child has reached a basic level of competence in these areas does the so-called "vocabulary growth" begin and, with it, the development of the lexicon (vocabulary).

Linguistic action

How a child integrates into society depends largely on how he learns to communicate and how well he can express his actions, needs and interests. The purpose of language acquisition is to be able to use language as a tool of action. This is also a prerequisite for imitation, improvisation, personality development, role-playing and more.

In the process of first language acquisition, the child learns "language patterns of action" within the family. Learn that people can achieve goals with and through language and learn to do the same. Later, when the child is subjected to socialization in the institution of kindergarten or school, the child is increasingly able to distinguish the role of his interaction partners. It distinguishes the language of playmates from the language of parents and from the language of the teacher. In his own language, he adapts to that of his interlocutor.

Each new experience, each new pattern of action that the child experiences in his environment expands the linguistic sphere of his behavior and communication competence. In role play and especially in drama exercises, social behavior also becomes increasingly differentiated.

All the linguistic domains of theater performance, the ability to listen and speak, imitation and finally interpretation are part of this linguistic ability to act (pragmatic competence).

The ability to act linguistically for use in different areas of life represents an important step in the child's linguistic development. Conversely, considerable difficulties must be expected if this is not achieved.

What does this mean for my teaching practice?

Pragmatic competence is the set of all competence areas of language development (phonetic, grammatical, lexical and communicative). This means that the ability to act linguistically is a prerequisite for "understanding the world". The first stage of this competence should be achieved before entering school. It is the basis for the development of educational language. Deficits in pragmatic competence usually have a massive impact on school performance.


Reflection question

The basic phonetic qualification is at the beginning of the language learning process. How does this information optimise my lesson planning?


1) Bootstrapping in language learning is

A) an internal reward strategy
B) inferring new things from existing language knowledge.

2) Motherese Language is

A) a European language
B) a field of linguistics
C) the universal language aimed at babies


1️⃣ → B) inferring new things from existing language knowledge
2️⃣ → C) the universal language aimed at babies

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