Psycholinguistics: Language Acquisition

Linguistic principle: in order for someone to learn a language, that someone should be exposed to that language. That is where language acquisition starts.

I have always (well, since I learned it) been amused by this principle. I found the idea of exposing someone to a certain language and suddenly, this someone has the potential of experiencing restricted communication in another language, captivating.

My four-year-old daughter has been exposed to the English language since a few months after her conception. Interesting fact: even though her mommy does not speak English, my wife is highly proficient regarding listening comprehension. So my daughter linguistic context is the following: daddy speaks in English to her and her little brother, but in Spanish to everyone else. Mommy speaks in Spanish to her and occasionally some Guarani is introduced as well. Most of the children surrounding her speak Spanish and TV does it as well.

Nevertheless, even though my daughter’s linguistic context is mainly in Spanish, this English input by one of her parents does influence in her language development. I’ve been collecting sample expressions of the jopara (Guarani word meaning “mixture”) my daughter produces:

“¿me podés dar agua cool? (Can I have cool water?)

“voy a poner jabón en mi tummy” (I’ll soap my tummy)

“¡¡vamos a hacer bubbles!!” (let’s make some bubbles!)

“no quiero apple, quiero jugar con el ball” (I don’t want apple, I want to play with the ball)

In these examples we can see that she produces a whole Spanish sentence, but replaces one specific word in English. An adjective in the first example, followed by nouns in the other three examples. But this is not always the case. For her, the “peek-a-boo, I see you!” expression or the whole “humpty dumpty” song are so “natural”, so part of herself since she has been exposed to these English classics all her life. The secret? be consistent. I had decided to talk to my children in English way before they were born. I see results now, which make me very happy.

Following, English nursery rhyme “this little piggy” for you to enjoy


2 thoughts on “Psycholinguistics: Language Acquisition

  1. My children grew up in Paraguay, but the 2 oldest moved down with us when they were 3 and 1 1/2 yrs old, respectively. All 5 of the kids were exposed to some Spanish every day from the start, even though my husband and I spoke to them in mostly English, especially with the 2 oldest girls. In fact, the language context that the girls experienced for the first 2 years, or so, of our life in Paraguay was mostly English during the week and Spanish on Sundays at church. It is interesting to note that neither of the girls had trouble playing with Spanish-speaking kids during this time, but as far as I know, they only spoke a very little bit of Spanish. The boys, however, had a different linguistic experience. By the time they were born, my oldest daughter was in a Paraguayan school and both girls had little Paraguayan friends that would come over to play. Also, my husband and I had become more involved in a small church and we had people over to the house on many occasions. The language context became a mixture. We spoke to our kids in English unless Spanish-speakers were present. Our kids generally responded to us in English (even when we spoke Spanish to them). However, the girls would use Spanish to tell us about what happened in school, and played with each other in either language, or both. The boys grew up with almost an equal amount of input from each language. None of them began speaking as early as the girls had, but they all 3 began speaking in both languages right off. They only used their Spanish vocabulary with our Paraguayan friends, but used both languages with their dad and me, and with their sisters. (We all still use both languages among ourselves.) Back then, when my kids were first experiencing language, I had no idea about any of this linguistic “stuff”. My husband and I made no conscious decision about when and how to use which language with our kids. But analyzing what happened on the basis of what I know now, I wonder whether a more structured approach to bilingualism would have made a difference in how my kids used both languages, or not.

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