It is normal for children to be exposed to language in that adults and older children are constantly speaking to and around them. Children develop language skills rapidly, and most children’s speech is somewhat well formed by the age of three-years old. Typical children are able to hear and comprehend rather complicated syntax, as well as the rules of nuance and plural forms. They also have the ability to evoke irregular nouns and verbs without ever having been taught grammar or speech, directly. In fact, the !Kung San, among other cultures, do not speak to children who have not yet learned to converse. How, then, do children acquire language and its intricacies without having been taught.
It is universally agreed that children enjoy a phase of “linguistic flexibility” that encompasses only a certain age group. Once that point has been reached, language acquisition becomes challenging—a demanding ordeal that is not always successfully completed. Assessments of the length of the linguistic plasticity period vary among experts, but in general, it is agreed that children should learn their first language by no later than the age eight. The “wolf children” who had been isolated without the benefit of human contact prior to eight years of age have had little success in language acquisition, especially where grammar is concerned. Case in point: a thirteen-year-old girl was found sequestered in a room by her mentally ill father. She was never able to learn grammatical English, but did eventually gain the ability to verbally identify certain objects. Forming a grammatically correct sentence remained forever out of her ken. In contrast, Helen Keller who was left deaf and blind due to a childhood illness was able to learn to utilize language effectively and developed into a most articulate adult. By the same token, once a six-and-a-half-year-old girl had escaped the confinement of her grandfather’s house, she was able to learn English with amazing speed, and was able to create grammatically correct sentences within two years.
How it happens
There are distinct observe stages of language acquisition, from arbitrary baby talk through the forward-thinking syntax adult use. The initial stage, obviously, is the goo-goo-gah-gah utterances of babies. This phase is critical to proper language acquisition as it the manner in which children become accustomed to their voices. This allows them to obtain the necessary skills to dominate their oral communication. Next, children begin implementing simple words, such as dada or water. These words are generally used to express needs, desires or surprise.
The next stage is the launching of actual communication, and is reminiscent of basic proto-languages. During this stage, children begin to link their words that create imprecise, yet meaningful strings, such as “give juice” when they are thirsty and “daddy home” to announce the arrival of the father. From there, children quickly develop to using authentic grammar in brief sentences, properly placing words in practical order: mommy get kitty— though this sentence is not without flaw, it illustrates a comprehension of basic grammar.
The concluding stage marks the development of ever more compound grammatical theories. Most children by the age of five or earlier, have mastered the correct pluralizing of the fictitious noun “yug” to “yugs.”
Parenthetically, there is an uncommon genetic disability known as Specific Language Impairment (SLI). Children diagnosed with this disorder are not able to acquire language in the same manner as their peers. Their elements of their grammar become compromised hence; these children attempt to offset the impairment by memorizing and figuring out the rubrics of their language. Certain exercises such as “add an ‘s’” or “I before e except after c” are helpful while others simply memorize modified forms such as talked, talks, talk.