First-Language Acquisition in Pre-School Children

One of the primary and most important functions of language in humans, (children or adults), is effective communication and the establishment of social contact (Vygotsky, 1962). Very young children learn the use of language by virtue of their interactions with their caretakers and those around them, primarily their mothers. Language acquisition among children is therefore a process by which children are socialized by their parents regarding the appropriate behaviors, speech, and thought processes (Muspratt, Luke & Freebody, 1997).

Language acquisition in children is an ongoing process beginning at birth and one which is based upon numerous experiences and exchanges with the parents and the caretakers of the child. During the regular activities of feeding, bathing, dressing, etc. parents are constantly involved in communication with the children, by using actions and repetitive words which enable them to build a basis of social interaction with each other. According to Burkato & Daehler (1995), this social interaction between the parents/caretakers and the children is the foundation of stimulus for the development of language learning.

The most initial form of vocalization is crying which is followed by the cooing stage which involves the repetition of the vowel sounds for instance, ‘aaaa’ or ‘oooo’ or ‘eeee’, when the child is about a month old (Shaffer, 1999). At the age of about three to four months, the infants begin to learn the use of consonant sounds by producing sounds such as ‘mama’, ‘dada’ etc, which is known as the babbling stage (Berk, 2000). These primary developments in infants and young children until the age of one year enable them to develop the role and importance of language as a means of communication.

At the onset of the second year, the child begins to speak single words, popularly termed as ‘holophrases’ (Shaffer, 1999). These initial words are used by children to denote a variety of meanings in the context in which they are used and generally represent the entire meaning of a single sentence (Shaffer, 1999). This process is continuously practiced by children until they have built upon a vocabulary of about ten words, following which they then begin to learn and use newer words with greater speed and efficiency.

The beginning of the second year marks the onset of simply structured sentences being used and practiced by children, which are known as ‘telegraphic speech’ due to the use of abbreviated language similar to essential words used in a telegram by children (Berk, 2000). These initial structures of sentences used by children may not be grammatically correct and the children use these words rather creatively, employing the trial and error method in language acquisition (Shaffer, 1999). With regular practice and frequent use, the sentence structures improve and the children begin to use the language in a more sophisticated manner.

By the time the children become about three to four years of age, the basic skills of language have been acquired by them and they have a developed a fair vocabulary to equip them with the correct use of language. There is also a marked improvement in their conversation skills and the manner in which they relate their words to denote specific actions and commands. While this process is more or less similar in most children, there may be variations based on personal and social differences among children. However, the language development is still not complete and continues through some more years.

Research has established that the development of an appropriate vocabulary in children is primarily developed through an active interchange of ideas and language with the other members of the same language community (Bukatko & Daehler, 1995). The active interaction, in which children indulge during the learning process, enables them to learn the rules of the acquired language including negotiation, turn-taking, and structural and grammatical rules along with the enhancement of vocabulary. The language interactions with playmates are also highly effective in teaching the children the rules of turn-taking in dialogues. Before entering elementary school, children are more or less similar to adults in their language usage and have acquired the necessary skills of the first language.

First language acquisition demands that children interact actively with their parents or caretakers around them in order to learn the rules of the language and be competent users of the same. The process of language acquisition in children is a learning process in which children learn to create certain rules of language. These rules are then unconsciously tested and hypothesized by children before they actually begin to implement them in their regular language communication. Thus it can be concluded that the acquisition of the first language in children is a highly creative, developmental, and ongoing process that is highly impacted by the social milieu in which they function.


Berk, L. E. (2000). “Child development” (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bukatko, D. & Daehler, M. W. (1995). “Child Development: A thematic approach.” Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Muspratt, S., Luke, A., & Freebody, P. (1997). “Constructing critical literacies”. Cresskill. NJ: Hampton Press.

Shaffer, D. R. (1999). “Developmental psychology: Childhood & adolescence” (5th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brook Cole Publishing Company.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). “Thought and language”. (E. Hanfmann & G. Vakar, Eds. & Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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