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Enhancing Language Development

As previously shared, young children begin developing their language by listening to those around them. This is known as




Expressive language

occurs when children mimic the language of those around them, interact, and receive positive feedback for their actions. Language development requires both active receptive and expressive language. So, how does an educator encourage this in their classroom? Many state educational standards, including the Common Core Standards, refer to objectives for the development of expressive and receptive language.

There are also numerous strategies and suggestions for activities on the Internet. Here is a website that provides several strategies for both.

Receptive Language

Expressive Language

The strategies you use to develop and strengthen the language of your students will ultimately depend on their developmental needs. The use of thematic units, centers, and word walls are a great way to expose students to a dynamic language environment. The frequent use of children’s literature is another way to develop language and introduce new vocabulary. As children enter the 2nd and 3rd grade it is important for their vocabulary to expand, for students to increase their awareness of the meaning of words that they read and their ability to incorporate vocabulary in their writing.

This quick clip has some excellent strategies for helping students build their vocabulary. Please take a look at it.

“Building Vocabulary for Kids”

Understood. (2016, February 22).

Building Vocabulary for Kids

[Video]. YouTube.


As far as informal assessments go, you can utilize the assessment tools mentioned in Unit 2 to assess a child’s language development. Formal standardized language assessments include the Peabody Picture Test (PPVT), the Teacher Ration of Language and Literacy (TROLL) and the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement.


Language and Vocabulary Development

Educational research has shown us that when it comes to language development, a child’s developmental maturity is not the only determining factor in language acquisition. Children develop their linguistic skills by mimicking the sounds of adults and the children around them. They watch their parents and caregivers as they speak, and their desire to use similar words encourages them to increase their vocabulary, even when they do not fully understand the correct syntax or context. “Children who are constantly exposed to an environment rich in language and who interact with adults who use language in a social context develop more facility than children lacking these opportunities” (Cazden, 2005; Dickinson, McGabe, & Essex, 2006; Gaskins, 2003; Morrow, 2005; Morrow, Kuhn, & Schwanenflugel, 2006).

Learning one’s language is, without question, an essential process of a child learning to read. In the beginning, language is the patterns and sequences that come together along with corresponding sounds to construct words. As children continue to explore print and observe the language of those around them, they begin to familiarize themselves with similar patterns of when and how to use language. Based on those patterns, children insert words into what they read and determine whether the context makes sense. Those children who have a strong sense of the relationship between semantics (meaning) and syntax (language structure) have the potential of becoming proficient readers.

Language Acquisition Development Theories

Although we know that babies exposed to early, rich language interactions, are more inclined to develop greater personal language skills, research has yet to determine the single route for the process of language acquisition and development for babies.

Here are the accepted theories:

Behaviorist Theory (Skinner)

Children imitate what they hear modeled by adults

Children create their own language and use background knowledge to make sense of what they say

Early attempts at language are rewarded and children continue to use language to see this approval.

Attempts at early language are interactive and provide opportunities for adults to elaborate and extend the meaning

Nativist Theory (Chomsky)

Language is developed innately

Children determine the process of language by internalizing rules of grammar and demonstrate their abilities independent of positive reinforcements

Piagetian (Cognitive development) and Vygotskian (Basic learning) Theories

Piaget believed that children develop language through their interactions and experiences

Their language development, according to Piaget, is sensory and is foundational egocentric (a desire to talk about their own experiences)

According to Vygotsky, children are able to understand more complex ideas through their internalizing social relationships

Adults initially provide the names for things and additional support throughout various “zones of proximal development.” When a child is able to function without the assistance of an adult, they have achieved “proximal development”.

Constructivist Theory

Language is an active and social process

Children create language based upon an innate set of rules or concepts, often through trial and error

Halliday’s Theory

A child’s interaction with others is their finding meaning in what they do. Meaning can be turned into language

Language is learned when it is relevant and functional

Language is instrumental, personal, heuristic (assists with learning new information), informative, regulatory (to control), interactional, and imaginative

Brain Development and Language Acquisition

Please read the following article to better understand how brain development impacts language and literacy development

“Brain Development and Mastery of Language in the Early Childhood Years”


Shiver, Elaine (2001) Brain Development and Mastery of Language in the Early Childhood Years. Retrieved from https://www.idra.org/resource-center/brain-development-and-mastery-of-language-in-the-early-childhood-years/.

As children move through each stage and develop their language, they learn the structural rules of language – phonology, syntax, and semantics.


refers to the “sound” of language. There are 44 different phonemes (or sounds) in the English language.


refers to the rules that tell us how words work together in phrases, clauses, and sentences.


is about the meaning that language communicates through content words (words that have meaning in themselves) and function words (no meaning on their own but that relate one word or groups of words to another).

Stages of Development

Thought the pace is not always the same for each child, the following article and accompanying clip detail more about the typical stages for language development of young children.

“Language Development in Children”

Look Who’s Talking! All About Child Language Development. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/language_development/#gs.6jx7xy.

Now, take a few minutes and watch this clip that allows you to see these stages in action. As you watch, think about the stages of language development and how each child, depicted in the clip, is displaying an understanding of phonology, syntax, and semantics.

“Typical Speech and Language Development”

ArizonaSLHS. (2013, February 1).

Typical Speech and Language Development

[Video]. YouTube.

Think about the lesson plans you are developing for your final assignment. What types of activities are you considering with regards to encouraging language and vocabulary development? Share your original post by


and then respond to


other classmates before the end of the week. This is an excellent opportunity to brainstorm ideas with your peers and to give others constructive feedback about their projects.

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