Studying language development since I first became a Speech-Language Pathologist has become a never ending passion with sometimes surprising twists. New studies emerge almost daily with mind boggling results from MRI research, new computer generated programs and language investigations involving younger and younger children. One such new study, by developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz of Florida Atlantic University, describes recent research wherein scientists found that babies’ language development during the babbling stage, at about 6 months, makes a dramatic change. Their eye gaze begins to shift to the mouth. In other words, babies begin to actually study what the mouth is doing when it its making those funny speech sounds. Another study reported in Live Science in 2009 by Charles Q Choi, noted that French researchers had found that newborns cry with the same melodic pattern as their native language and suggests that infants begin picking up elements of language in the womb!
The therapeutic use of this information is encouraging for those of us who advise parents and teachers on how to help little ones learn language. It has been known for a long time that eye gaze is crucial to language development, that prosody works with phonology in language learning and that early vocabulary growth can predict reading success by age 6 years. All of these studies can be useful as guides when helping children with learning problems.
Language development for many children is difficult. My own child started speaking at 9 months, then stopped talking for several months, only for seemingly brand new language to emerge in a sort of muddle, with related learning problems surfacing in preschool. Studies at that time were trickling in about the relationship between talking and reading. Now we know so much more.
Here are three facts that every parent and teacher should know.
1. The very first one is that there is some arbitrary delineation inserted into oral and written language as a student moves through the grades that I believe is caused by the professionals given the responsibility of helping those with learning problems. Before kindergarten, the Speech-Language Pathologist is usually the first professional called upon for help. After kindergarten, it may be a reading specialist or resource specialist.
2. However, nearly 80% of all learning disabilities are language based. Typically the problem is first noticed in preschool as a “speech” problem and morphs into a reading/writing problem in elementary school when the underlying language disorder has already impacted learning.
3. The key features of language- phonology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics intertwine and interact with each other in every classroom, playground, sport or social activity, in both oral and written language. We communicate.
Below is a graphic representation of the development of literacy.
Below are some common signs of learning problems, kindergarten through 4th grade.
All parents and educators should make sure that students receive a complete speech-language evaluation if there are suspicions of learning problems.
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