Solutions For Parents

Infants » Communication

The Role of Adults in Language Development II

Share This Article: On Twitter On Facebook Print

Dr. Turben wants teachers to have acess to a program she gave to the ODE Annual Conference - How Children Tell Us How They Think Before They Have the Language to Epress Thought ad Feeling


Check to make sure you understand the child:

However, what was less common was adults’ checking to ensure that they had correctly understood the child before making their next move in the conversation.  Many early utterances are ambiguous and, unless the adult is alert to this possibility, what he or she says next may not be an appropriate response.  In many cases this will simply lead to an abandonment of the topic; however, if the conversation continues, the child will be provided with evidence that is positively unhelpful in the task of matching what is said to the meaning he or she believes is intended.

Systematically checking interpretations:

A good example of an adult who systematically checks her interpretations is Mark’s mother, in the extract quoted in chapter 2 to illustrate Stage II of language learning.  The extract begins with a successful sequence of exchanges:

Mark:  ‘Ot, Mummy?

Mother: Hot? (checking) Yes, that’s the radiator.

Mark: Been – burn?

Mother Burn? (checking)

Mark: Yeh

Mother, Yes, you know it’ll burn, don’t you?

Complete the complex proposition:

As well as illustrating the strategy of checking, this short extract also shows very clearly how, with the adult’s assistance, a proposition can be jointly constructed that is far more complex than the child is able to express alone.  Mark offers the first element: hot.  Mother confirms the appropriateness of his observation (and, of course, of the way in which he expressed it) and adds the second element: the radiator.  Mark then adds the third element, burn, to complete the complex proposition, hot radiator burn, which his mother confirms in the final turn.

Mutual comprehension:

Sometimes such checking utterances lead to the recognition that the adult’s interpretation is not correct, and a sequence of negotiation over the intended meaning is begun, as in the later episode in the same extract concerning “the man’s fire.”  In addition to making it more likely that the conversational participants will achieve mutual comprehension, such exchanges provide children with valuable feedback on the success with which their utterances have communicated their intentions.  Such exchanges may also lead to the presentation of relevant new evidence about how to communicate a given intention more effectively, as when Mark’s mother gives him the word for the particular kind of fire he is looking at – a bonfire.  Note how, because that is the focus of his interest at that moment, Mark is quick to assimilate the new piece of information and relate it to other relevant knowledge that he already possesses:

Mark: A man’s fire, Mummy.

Mother: (requesting a repetition): Mm?

Mark: A man’s fire.

Mother: (checking):  Mummy’s flower?

Mark: No … the man .. fire.

Mother: (checking): Man’s fire?

Mark: Yeh.

Mother: Oh yes, the bonfire.

Mark: (imitating): Bonfire.

Mother: Mm.

Mark: Bonfire .. Oh hot, Mummy.  Oh, hot.  It hot. It hot.

Mother: Mm.  It will burn, won’t it?

Mark: Yeh. Burn.  It burn.

Conversation comes full circle:

By chance, no doubt, but nevertheless very relevant, the conversation comes full circle to the ideas with which the extract started.  What a rich opportunity for learning – both about language and about the world to which the language refers!

Ask Dr. Susan