Section 2, Article 4 - It is impossible to complete a discussion of cognitive development in the first 2 years of life without looking at one of life’s most complex achievements – the mastery of the human . Consider all the elements involved in human speech: a child must first understand that certain sounds convey meaning (words) while other sounds do not (dogs barking, doors slamming, etc.). They must separate individual words from the steady stream of sounds heard in their presence. They must perceive the meaning our society has attached to that word, and they must develop the motor skills necessary to form words in response. Memory comes into play, as does an understanding of and expression. When you think about it, is a wonder that any of us ever learned to talk!
An interesting discovery in terms of language development is that children of every culture appear to develop language according to the same sequence. Thus, language acquisition seems to be preprogrammed. As a reflection of God’s universal design of man language acquisition does not appear to be connected to culture, learning, or other environmental factors. As is the case with any set of norms, the sequence listed here represents the average; some children will progress slower or faster. As we discussed earlier, infants within the womb have the ability to hear (). Further, research indicates that a degree of learning related to language takes place within the womb as newborn infants demonstrate an ability to identify the specific language spoken by his or her mother (). This gives added insight into the nature of how God knits babies together in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13, NIV).
Infants, while not yet able to speak, clearly connect to language. When Mom or Dad talk, baby listens with rapt attention. They show a clear preference for speech vs. mechanical sounds (). They are even able to discriminate between speech patterns that are typical versus patterns that are not typical (). One fairly well established fact related to the development of language is that speech is connected to socialization. Infant’s earliest attempts to communicate increase (or decrease) in proportion to the positive reaction/attention they receive as a result. Think of the hours a new mother spends prompting her baby to say or the time a new father spends repeating “da-da-da-da-da” in hopes that the child will respond by making his “name” the . Infants appreciate this attention, and respond positively when caregivers provide verbal and non-verbal social interaction. Although casual observation might indicate that very little effort goes into teaching a child to speak, parents do play a key role in helping children acquire this skill. Every culture finds parents using a specific language patterns with very young children known as “motherese.” Psychologists prefer to call it or infant-directed speech as it may be practiced by mothers, fathers or other caregivers. Some believe child-directed speech should not be used as it may hinder the development of language. Other studies indicate that infants prefer speech of this type. They give more attention to caregivers who use child-directed speech, thus increasing the opportunity to connect socially and to learn from their caregivers (). Approaching early communication from another standpoint also points to the importance of the social aspect of speech. Some parents seek to encourage communication with pre-verbal children through "baby sign language."
It is also interesting to note that even if parents do not formally teach their baby to “sign,” most children develop their own set of gestures in order to communicate. Pointing is one such gesture that is used universally throughout life. Communicating by pointing is typically seen after a child is ten months old (; ). One other fact related to language development is that children learn the specific sounds or of various languages at a very young age. Language acquisition is said to be the pinnacle of development in relation to how one thinks, feels, and interacts with others (). Acquiring the ability to communicate in a way that is congruent with one’s experience and needs is a process that occurs over many years. An individual has the capacity to communicate before being able to speak; infants begin life with the engrained tendency to develop as little communicators, which is vital to their survival (). Parents have the job of being responsive to the pre-linguistic cues of the newborns depending on them for care and the positive interactions that foster cognitive development (). The cognitive development needed to establish communication skills will occur naturally in just about every infant’s habitat, however not every infant is born into a place in which interactions and scaffolding that foster quality communication occur at a quality level. By engaging with infants in secure, two-way experiences of interaction appropriate for their development, parents and caregivers can provide them the attunement needed for them to thrive as talkers.