Examine the extracts below of conversations between a two-year-old child and an adult friend. To what extent do these extracts illustrate features typical of adult-child interaction? In what ways does the adult contribute to the child’s learning of the English language? The process of learning to talk and read begins long before children start school. Adult-child interactions have a deep impact on a child’s vocabulary development, comprehension, phonemic awareness, and expressive language. If an adult interaction is supportive, it shapes a child’s perceptions of him/herself as a capable, trusted, and trustworthy human being.
According to Lenzenweger (2010), ‘The strong interpersonal connectedness and social skills that children learn from having active, healthy engagements with adults fosters positive psychological development. With it, a child develops his or her affiliation system – their connection to the world of people. Without it, the way a child connects with other human beings can be severely impaired. ‘ In this paper the extracts of conversations between a two-year-old child, Cindy and an adult friend, Patsy will be examined. It will be shown how adults contribute to a child’s language development.
It will then be shown how little children overextend words until they learn the correct names of objects. Finally, the stages of early grammar development of a child will be highlighted. The extracts (1-3) of a conversation between a child, Cindy and an adult, Patsy, could be described as typical of an adult-child interaction occurring when the child is still too young to go to school. It shows in detail how the child, Cindy, is beginning to develop her vocabulary through the pattern of communication. One can see that Cindy’s English is immature but regardless of her limitations she has already become quite an effective English language user.
She is evidently a competent conversationalist, able to take turns (as can be seen in L. 2-5), involve her interlocutor as well as respond to prompts and questions (L. 6-7) (Bancroft ; Gillen, 2007). According to Mercer (2007, DVD 2) children learn English in conversations with their care-takers long before they can actually use words, children manifest recognition of turn taking known as ‘proto-conversations’ for such interactions. He asserts that language use is a social action. The adult-child interaction, between Cindy and Patsy, contains Initiation, Response and Feedback format which will later be seen in the school environment.
Throughout extracts 1;2, Cindy is focused on learning the new word ‘carrot’ which gives her the freedom to ask questions when in doubt (L. 3) and Patsy gives her the support she needs, by answering and developing her enquiries, which helps Cindy in increasing her vocabulary. Studies have shown that in the early stages the vocabulary development is slow, with children only producing about 50 words in the first eighteen months; however, they may understand five times as many (Bancroft ; Gillen, 2007). From around 21 months the vocabulary growth is rapid and during that period the child may learn about 10 new words per week.
One of the interesting features of many young children’s early vocabulary development is the manner in which they overextend a word ‘to refer to objects that lie outside its normal range of application for adults’ (Bancroft & Gillen, 2007, p. 22). For instance, a little child might use the word ball to refer to anything that is round in shape and so if an adult tells a young child to ‘get the ball’, this could result in the retrieval of any object that fits, as in color, size, shape, or function.
In extract 3, L. 11 and L.13-15, Cindy calls one of her dolls ‘tiger’, one can well say that she is overextending the word ‘tiger’ here because either the doll is a yellow striped cuddly animal toy or else it is dressed up in a striped dress and she calls it ‘a tiger’ based on the property of striped pattern. De Villiers and de Villiers (1979), assert that ‘the overextension of a particular word may last for some months, but often it occurs only briefly before the child learns the correct names of the objects.
Furthermore, the child may overextend only some …words; others will be used appropriately from the beginning’. According to Aldridge (1991) by the age of two, a child can produce only a limited number of sounds in their words – often these are p, b, t, d, m and w. The production of the r consonant comes at the age of around 3. This explains Cindy’s immature pronunciation of the word ‘carrot’ as ‘kawo’ in L. 1 since children her age have difficulty producing the consonant /r/ and so typically use the consonant /w/ instead of /r/.
Furthermore, since a child can produce the voiced and unvoiced / at the age of around 4 years, they often substitute it by /t/ or /d/, so chances are high that in L. 15 Cindy is doing just that. Cindy is 24 months old and at this stage, children try out new things and explore the world around them more actively. They will often choose their own activities and enjoy pretend play with their toys as can be seen in L. 11-13, where Cindy is playing with her dolls and imitating her mother by talking to her dolls in ‘motherly’ tones which she has definitely seen her mother do when bringing her to bed.
Children are usually talking about something which is happening, has happened or is going to happen (Vygotsky, 1967), with which they share the experience with the parent, this imparts a solid foundation for any conversation, that of shared understanding. Cindy’s language is connected to certain events of the day that have a routine, even repetitive, quality to them. Many of these events are linked to people in some way and even to interactional routines. The kinds of activities that seemingly encourage her to use language are those she initiates or at least is involved in.