‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ may be found in modern parenting like in other aspects of life. Preening your peacock tale over your offspring could be biological – yet, kids’ language skills happen to need more than instinctive behavior. ;)
Humans develop varying learning strategies; the observation applies to little humans, too. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to let the little individual his or her own way with language, especially when you think about language acquisition pace and rate.
The rate concerns the language items the kid covers mastering his or her language skills. In plain English, when you think about the rate, you think whether the kid uses the progressive or perfect tenses, etc. The pace concerns how fast or early the kid learns to use language items.
Kids usually show similarities as for the order of acquisition. They tend to learn the Simple before the Perfect, for example. Some kids are faster, some are slower. Some are ‘late speakers’. What are those like? They are very often bilingual or multilingual, that is, learn more than one language for their start (right, don’t tell me about your difficult childhood ;)).
Importantly, they may not like to speak, although they have no problems with those early language ‘monsters’ – [l] versus [r], [t] versus [th]. Probably, they prefer to internalize their languages better before they start speaking. Internalization would mean here integrating the principles of language along with language trivia into one’s own working language faculty. The kids’ unwillingness to speak is not a delay; it is not a disability and they should not be pressed to speak.
Multilingualism has its advantages – the prejudice that kids should be exposed only to one language in their early years is definitely gone. For example, to a person to speak only one langauge, the word “cat” might literally denote the furry creature. To a multilingual person, the furry creature could be a cat, chat (French), Katze (German), gatto (Italian), or gato (Spanish), etc. Learning that in your early years means that you acquire the notion of form, and that can help your school skills.
Obviously, if you are a parent of possibly a ‘late speaker’, you should check if the kid does not have a hearing defect. If not, let the kid his or her way – multilingual children tend to catch up and then even have advantage in their school progress. As adults, they mostly speak their languages without interference, that is, foreign accent or other influences – none of the languages of the early childhood would be really foreign. Already exposure to television or radio programs in various languages may get a kid interested in languages.
The author herself was a late speaker – now an M.A. in linguistics :)
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