Michael Halliday (1978) suggests that ‘A child create, first his child tongue, then his mother tongue, in interaction with that little coterie of people who constitute his meaning group. In other words, the child begins by learning what it is to speak like a child and only gradually experiments with other roles. Caregivers play a very crucial role in the language development of his or her child during the first six years. In most cases, the mother will be the main caregiver of the child. The other caregivers could be the other family members living with the child. With the caregiver around, the child will have someone to interact with and model after.
Krashen’s theory of i+1, where the input is provided naturally from the caregiver to the child and that the input can be easily understood, can only take place when the caregiver is with the child most of the time. The caregiver is also responsible for providing the appropriate environment for the child to acquire languages. A child who grows up in an environment surrounded by books and interesting objects will definitely grow up to be different from a child who grows up in an empty environment because of the vast experiences he or she can have with the books and objects. The caregiver plays the role of a motivator for the child’s acquisition of language. With the caregiver’s support and encouragement, the child will be motivated to learn. In today’s time, it is definitely not enough to know just one language. Therefore, caregivers also play a vital role in the child’s acquisition of a second language.
The linguistic input from the caregiver to the child is important. According to Adamson (1995), a child of two to seven months old makes sound such as coos, goos and some babbling. At this period, the role of the caregiver in language development is to introduce the child to a world in which language accompanies and complements most of the doings by talking to the child. They speak to the child using the modified speech, known as the child directed speech (CDS), which is often of higher pitch, exaggerated intonation and slower delivery. According to Bancroft and Gillen (2007), CDS plays an essential role in language acquisition. CDS can provide the child with sounds of the language. Apart from providing the child with sounds of language, caregiver routines, such as feeding and bathing, give opportunities for predictable exchanges involving language. Therefore, caregiver’s role is to provide interaction with the child and exposing the sounds of language to the child when the child is of two to seven months old.
Between thirteen to twenty first months, the child will be able to comprehend and produce words and sentences. The role of the caregiver is to continue to provide linguistic input for the child. According to de Villiers (1979), a striking aspect of many children’s early vocabulary development is the way they overextend a word to refer to objects that lie outside its normal range of application for adults. For example, a child may use the word ‘car’ to refer not only to all cars but also to trucks, lorries, buses and motorcycles. Therefore, when the child points to a motorcycle and tell the caregiver it is a car, the caregiver can provide the appropriate linguistic input by saying that it is a motorcycle and go on telling him about the number of wheels it has or its colour. This is the most natural form of learning and the input is at its most appropriate time. This is an example of Krashen’s i+1 theory and according to him, the child can learn and absorb the best when the input is at its most appropriate time.
The caregiver plays an important role in the child’s language acquisition by encouraging and supporting the child. Playing in pretence games with caregiver is known as sociodramatic play and it has often been observed that in such role play children try out different registers of talk that they observe to ‘belong’ to the role. (Resource & reference materials, pg 10). The caregiver can increase the confidence of the child by being a supportive “audience” when the child is telling a story or joke. This motivates the child to learn the language through expressing himself. The child is thus not afraid to try to dabble with the language. Reading aloud is another way the caregiver can support the child’s language acquisition. When caregiver reads aloud, the child is able to understand the relationship between picture and text, phonology and alphabet and rhythms of the written language.
The caregiver is vital to the child’s language acquisition as he or she is able to provide the appropriate environment for the child to learn. The caregiver can provide an environment suitable for the acquisition of both the first and second language. Bilingualism is very common in many countries, for example Singapore. Children must be literate in firstly English, because it is used as a main language for learning in schools, as well as their mother tongue (Mandarin or Malay or Indian). Charmian Kenner (2004) did some case studies and realized that some caregiver creates a literacy ecosystem in which different members of the family would contribute to the children’s learning with the knowledge and skills that they had available and that would make up a whole in which the children were supported in the best possible way. For example, the father communicates with the child in Mandarin while the mother communicates with the child in English.
In conclusion, caregivers play an important role in the child’s acquisition of language because they are able to provide the appropriate linguistic input to expand the child’s vocabulary and grammar, provide motivation and the appropriate environment so as to maximize the child’s learning or languages.
Halliday, M.A.K. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning, London, Edward Arnold.
Adamson, L.B. (1995) Communication Development during Infancy, Madison, WI, Brown & Benchmark.
Bancroft, Dennis & Gillen, Julia (2007) Learning English. Routledge. Abingdon, U.K.
De Villiers, P.A. and de Villiers, J.G. (1979) Early Language, London, Open Books.
Theresa Lillis (1994). Learning English: Resource and reference materials. Routledge. Abingdon, U.K.
“Extract speech of Charmian Kenner”. (2004). ELG251 Learning English, ELG253 Redesigning English. DVD rom. SIM University.
paper ID: 123447203