My Tired

Language acquisition fascinates me. It’s The theory of Noam Chomsky and the Nativist Theoretical approach that intrigues me the most. I agree that no child is born Tabula Rasa, we must have some sort of base to build upon, the inclination and thirst to learn. The skills needed to acquire language therefore would be, according to Chomsky and other Psycholinguistic theorists, innate; we would then draw upon it to communicate as part of society.

“Chomsky argued that children will never acquire the tools needed for processing an infinite number of sentences if the language acquisition mechanism was dependent on language input alone.”Henna Lemetyinen. (2012). Language Acquisition. Available: Last accessed 5th Nov 2015.

Chomsky suggested that children learn the words but have what he coined as the theory of Universal Grammar. Children simply have to learn the word but then can group them instinctively into verb and noun: My tired. Thus creating a meaningful and communicative phrase. This would explain why children say things that an adult would never say, dismissing some of the behaviourist and social-interactionist’s theories. Language is such a vast and powerful tool that only human’s possess, thus Nativist’s argue it must have intrinsic value. Children are exposed to finite sentences but have the ability to create infinite sentences without exposure to them before.

But… as a nursery nurse I found it impossible not to kindly correct the way children first use language and initial phrases. This was done by reiterating the sentence with more advanced grammar and trying to tease out conversation….”I’m tired, maybe we should read a story and have a wee seat?” It is human nature when something doesn’t sound right to correct it, even if that’s in our own head. We want to teach others and enable children to improve their language skills.

Many refute the theory of Nativist language acquisition and highlight a more usage-based theory. Originating from theorist’s like Wittgenstein, who thought language was a means to get by socially and therefore it had to emerge: believing that language use isn’t to be understood (cognitively) but is to be used in a learning, social context. A child may know it is polite to say “Good morning” even on a rainy day when the morning is not “good”. It is about understanding the social context of language, then we know what to use and when. Wittgenstein saw language as a tool box, believing in the multi-usage of words and their on-going acquisition.

Tomasello follows on from Wittgenstein and gives a robust modern-day argument to Chomsky; believing children learn firstly how others use language then use it themselves. All people have general cognitive processes that, for language acquisition could be separated into two distinct groups-

1-Intention Reading; the functional aspect of language and how humans are able to use social cognitive skills to understand symbols.

2-Pattern Finding; cognitive skills used in the abstraction process

Tomosello believed it was through the schemas children create that language is acquired. This makes sense and holds more weight in today’s classrooms as it is a usage-based theory. Teachers can help build upon a child’s schema and introduce new methods to cement the use of words in coherent sentences.

This got me thinking…. how would I help their language acquisition, it is something that never stops developing and at such varying rates. Firstly I wouldn’t underestimate the children, give them a class project about news. Let them bring in newspapers, leaflets, magazines and see what catches their eye. Develop a class newspaper and get them engaging with a thesaurus as well as peers. Reading is vital but doesn’t have to mean silence! Let the children create a library corner for them to enjoy. Read to the class and analyse books; what language was used and how. It is undoubtedly the greatest way to build a varied vocabulary. Introduce a new, wildly long and impractical word every week, i.e. Abecedarian- arranged alphabetically… this could introduce word grouping; noun, adjective, verb, adverb etc. Reading out-with the classroom environment has such benefits and can engage those who feel somewhat constricted by reading time; opening up the chance for role-play, interaction, physical play and peer learning. No child should feel ostracised and it is our job to make reading and language acquisition a tool for all.

reading outside

Also of great importance to me is how we can teach children that language is a tool and then allow a child to express themselves and eventually thrive in the wider world. Language acquisition is what makes humans distinct and we should embrace that. Many children may well want to see other animals communicate to appreciate what we have with our language skills. Get the chance to take part in plays and see how language use can create mood and feeling. Aesthetic education is another way to engage children in language. They could describe pieces of art in a gallery, use visual aids for word association and make words come alive in sculpture and shape… Giant human letters in the playground (think ArtAttack, can you guess what it is?).

Decades on language is still a topic of controversy, debate and budding research, yet much of this still draws upon initial theories. So as a teacher it is important to understand the varying linguistic skills of children stepping into our classrooms, then help them become linguistically eloquent.


7 thoughts on “My Tired

  1. Lauren Duncan

    Wow Becky! You always go into so much detail in your posts! I especially liked your points about Noam Chomsky. When I done some reading on him I didn’t come across all these interesting facts. It is so interesting that we are born with these skills inside us that help us acquire language.
    I definitely agree it is hard not to correct a small child’s grammar when they first learn to speak. I was so bad at this with my little sisters, but from seeing my middle sister do this to my youngest I have seen how it can also be beneficial to step back and let them acquire their own form of language. A lot of people say my youngest sibling doesn’t have the same level of language as us as our middle sister “speaks for her” haha! Very cute to see, though!
    I love how you’ve highlighted the point that we are distinct beings in the way that we are the only species that communicate through spoken language.
    Keep up the good work, I love reading it!

  2. M Mackie

    A really informative post! I was interested in your point about ‘correcting’ the little-one’s grammar. Throughout my nursery career I tended to use the reflection technique where you repeat what the child has said, but say it back to them using the correct grammar (for example Child “my tired” Adult “oh, are you feeling tired? I’m feeling tired too, let’s go for a nap.”) I liked this because not only does it model good communication skills but also it involves active listening and allows the child to feel listened to.
    I think, as with many aspects of child development, it is really helpful for us to take elements of each of the different theories to help us with our teaching practice. As you point out in your post; we may agree with the nativist ideas that some language skills are innate, but also see how modelling and social learning plays a large part in the child’s development.
    Your post has really got me thinking and I might have to go away and do some more reading on this subject! Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Rebecca Muir Post author

      Hello! I need to clarify what I meant by correcting… I meant the same as you pointed out, repeating the sentence with correct grammar and trying to draw out a conversation. Children need to feel encouraged to communicate, I would never reprimand. May have to go and elaborate on that haha.
      Language is so interesting and we are definitely at an advantage being exposed to emergent speech. There’s so much advancements in the cognitive aspects of language that surely there will be scientific proof soon enough. Here’s hoping.

  3. Claire-Emma

    I loved this post and had to share it with my husband as we are both rather guilty of correcting our youngest child. As the youngest he was, as has been discussed, “helped” by our eldest son to get his point across. As a result his speech was delayed and we did have concerns over his development as he still speaks “baby talk” now at the age of 6. On the other hand he knows certain words very well and will in fact now correct me! If I say “wa-er” he will say “There is no such word, it is wa-T-er!!!” th an angry frustrated look on his face. He is also scared of making mistakes and rather than try and say what he is trying to get across, he will say “oh I can’t say those words….” and get quite sad and annoyed at himself. I will now make a point of correcting him by repeating what he said correctly within my response so that it feels less like a criticism. I hope that this boosts his confidence when exploring unfamiliar language. Thank you!

    1. Rebecca Muir Post author

      You are more than welcome. My own daughter is 3 and I try to embrace the funny words she says and ask her what her made up words mean, delving into her wee world so she feels less nervous trying. I really appreciate your feedback, thank you!

  4. Rachel Billes

    Hi Becky, I love how much information you manage to fill your posts with in an interesting way that doesn’t make boring reading. I had never really taken the time to stop and think about the issues that you have addressed here. You have obviously done a lot of research in this area and that is clearly reflected through the way you write. Well done 🙂

    1. Rebecca Muir Post author

      Thank you so much! I have always had an interest in emergent speech and vocabulary and I really look forward to being a teacher who can facilitate a love of language and conversation.


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