Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Before talk

Babble is increasingly being understood as an essential precursor to speech, and as a key predictor of both cognitive and social emotional development. And research is teasing apart the phonetic components of babble, along with the interplay of neurologic, cognitive and social factors. (Perri Klass at NYT)

Mostly teachers work with students who've gone past the stage of babbling. We try to get students to use language, as we know it, in writing and speaking. We try to help students understand the languages of text by calling up what they know of language. And we work hard to get students to manipulate and play with language in the hope that such manipulation and play will lead to greater linguistic dexterity.

But how do students acquire language? What came before they had speech as we know it?

The New York Times' piece hyperlinked above explores how we get language. And the research included is fascinating. Take a look:

The experimenters argue that a baby’s vocalizations signal a state of focused attention, a readiness to learn language. When parents respond to babble by naming the object at hand, the argument goes, children are more likely to learn words. So if a baby looks at an apple and says, “Ba ba!” it’s better to respond by naming the apple than by guessing, for example, “Do you want your bottle?”