Language is given to help children function in the community. It is a means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalised sounds and signs of spoken and written words.
Children learn language in a variety of ways which include:
1. Curtesy and role modelling – e.g when they hear, “Please stop,” “I would appreciate it, if you do not do that,” “thank you for telling me”.
2. Commands like, “Close the door,” “put the chair down”.
3. Songs, poems, and stories read to them.
4. Questioning, e.g “how did you make it?” Open ended questions that allows the child answer in one or more sentences facilitates communication.
5. Talking about things or experiences gives children the ability to organise thoughts and to speak confidently.
Communication can be verbal, using words; and non-verbal, using facial expressions and body movements. Children learn language communicated to them both verbally and non verbally. Non verbal language can be communicated consciously or unconsciously. One of the most powerful means of communication is eye contact, yet we are usually not aware of the kinds of messages our eyes send. Other non verbals are facial expressions, movement of the hands, legs, or head, position of the body, proximity, appearance, tone of voice, speed of answers, length of pauses, length of silence, use or non use of touch.
By being responsive to an infant’s facial expression, gestures, and intonation, familiar adults help to ensure that communication is in place before the child begins to speak. For example, an adult with an infant can observe the direction of the child’s gaze, and link it to a verbal act like naming the object looked at. This helps the child become responsive to non-verbal language. The more observant we are of children’s non-verbal communication, the richer our overall communication with them.
Verbal communication is often deliberate and is taught through vocabulary enrichment, and skills development in a formal setting. In vocabulary enrichment, children learn many forms of literature and self expression while in skills development, they learn sounds, words, sentence and grammar construction.
When children begin to construct sentences, they go through stages as follows:
1. String two words e.g milk gone.
2. Omit words e.g Ben up there.
3. Make up plurals e.g mouses.
4. Make up tenses e.g goed.
5. Misplace pronouns e.g me will jump.
6. Be creative with words e.g if you play with matches, you get fired. Here, they create their idea of, set on fire.
All these are indications that the child’s language is developing well, such forms are the result of a logical mind noting what usually happens in the language. Unfortunately, language is not as regular as the child’s logic assumes. Care givers should observe children’s language to plan lessons for areas needing development rather than being quick to correct their language which is part of their thinking process.
Parents should create opportunities to listen to children and encourage communication. This can be achieved by working with children on different activities like: art, reading, cooking, singing, dancing, outdoor play, dress up, etc. Listening involves non-verbal communication like: nodding your head to show the child you are following, asking questions to encourage the child to think and say more, pausing for emphasis, and using humour to strengthen the bond.
Care should be taken in using language. Disrespectful or threatening messages should be avoided because it will only harm the relationship between the adult and the child. Stereotypical and sexist messages should be avoided, e.g “boys don’t play with dolls,” “girls are smarter than boys”. These affect their thinking, as language shapes the thinking process and personality.
People develop personality styles during communication, for example:
1. Dominating people use lingering eye contact, raise their voice or have less pauses when talking to manipulate conversations.
2. Shy people are modest, cautious, and unsure in conversations.
3. Dramatic people embellish talk.
4. Submissive or passive people are calm and tend to look away.
5. Sociable and friendly people smile often in conversations.
6. Hostile and unwelcoming people are argumentative.
Adults should be aware of their personality types and be conscious of helping children, adopt healthy personalities.