Language & Literacy Development
Below is information regarding
principles and practices of language and literacy
Spend anytime around a baby who is acquiring spoken language
and you soon realize how truly amazing the acquisition of
language is. How does one learn to speak? There are
currently four language acquisition theories: behaviorist,
innatist, cognitive, and social interactionist. Below the
theories as well as the stages of oral language development
will be discussed.
The behaviorist theory believes
that “infants learn oral language from other human role
models through a process involving imitation, rewards, and
practice. Human role models in an infant’s environment
provide the stimuli and rewards,” (Cooter & Reutzel, 2004).
When a child attempts oral language or imitates the sounds
or speech patterns they are usually praised and given
affection for their efforts. Thus, praise and affection
becomes the rewards. However, the behaviorist theory is
scrutinized for a variety of reasons. If rewards play such
a vital component in language development, what about the
parent who is inattentive or not present when the child
attempts speech? If a baby’s language learning is motivated
strictly by rewards would the speech attempts stop merely
for lack of rewards (Cooter & Reutzel, 2004)? Other cases
against this theory include “learning the use and meaning of
abstract words, evidence of novel forms of language not
modeled by others, and uniformity of language acquisition in
humans” (Cooter & Reutzel, 2004).
The innatist theory
states that learning is natural for human beings. They
believe that babies enter the world with a biological
propensity, an inborn device, to learn language (Cooter &
Reutzel, 2004). This human built in device for learning
language has been coined the (LAD) language acquisition
device. The innatist theory does somewhat explain how
children can generate or invent language they have never
heard. Researcher, N. Chomsky backed this theory stating
that children use the LAD to generate and invent complex
speech. Although this theory provides what some claim is a
reasonable explanation about acquiring language, this theory
lack sufficient evidence. Some of the cases against this
theory include, “timing of language learning varies greatly
within cultures, environment shapes how much and what
language is learned, and feedback from other language users
affects language acquisition” (Cooter & Reutzel, 2004).
The cognitive theory
is often known as the compromise between the behaviorist
theory and innatist theory. “Cognitivists believe that not
only do cognitive and maturational factors influence
language acquisition, but also the process of language
acquisition itself may in turn affect cognitive and social
skill development” (Cooter & Reutzel, 2004). The
behaviorist theory explains why babies learn language while
the innatist theory reveals why babies born to
English-speaking parents speak English instead of Spanish.
The cognitive theory seems to explain the majority of the
language acquisition questions and is a nice blend of the
previous two theories, behaviorist and innatist (Cooter &
The last theory, the
social interaction, “assumes that language acquisition is
influenced by the interaction of a number of factors –
physical, linguistic, cognitive, and social,” (Cooter &
Reutzel, 2004). This theory shares many of the same
explanations as the other three theories. Vygotsky’s work
is often placed with this theory because of the emphasis he
placed on the importance of social interaction to learn
language. M.A.K. Halliday believes that children learn
language out of need to function in society. Babies acquire
language in order to survive, have their needs met, and
express themselves (Cooter & Reutzel, 2004).
The stages and rates
of oral language development just like reading development
vary greatly from child to child. The stages according to
Cooter and Reutzel, 2004 include parents’ baby talk, the
first 12 months, from the ages 1 to 2, from ages 2 to 3,
from ages 3 to 4, and from ages 4 to 6.
“Parents’ baby talk is when
parents change their normal speech structures during
interactions with their infants to encourage verbal
interaction. This is not strictly an English language
practice; parents use baby talk across all languages and
The first 12 months babies go
through three stages. During the first two months, babies
cry primarily to indicate their need to be fed, changed, or
attended in some manner. During this early stage of speech
development, “young infants make what linguists call
vegetative sounds, such as burps, coughs, and sneezes” (Cooter
& Reutzel, 2004). Two to five months of age are marked with
babies cooing and laughing. Babies also develop three
distinct types of crying; one for comfort, attention, and
distress. Six months to one year of age babies enter the
stage of vocal play and babbling. This stage is where the
child begins to say “Ma Ma” and “Da Da”.
From 1 to 2 years of age
children begin to put two words together and are trying out
the rules of language as they experiment with language.
From 2 to 3 the broken two word
sentences transform into more complex and natural forms of
speech. Children at this age begin to establish their own
identity. Children begin to use the words no and not, this
is an important change in children’s language development.
Children aged 3-4 begin using
complex sentences and have a speaking vocabulary of 1,000 to
1,500 words. Children begin to change basic sentences
into questions. This stage is often referred to as the why
From 4 to 6 years old, children
seem to have “acquired most of the elements of adult
language,” (Cooter & Reutzel, 2004). Children by age for
will have a vocabulary of 2,500 words which will grow to
6,000 words by the time the child reaches six years old.
The reading process is divided
into five stages: emergent literacy, beginning reading,
building fluency, reading to learn and for pleasure, and
Children in emergent literacy
are discovering basic concepts of print and the language it
represents. These children, usually preschool to first
grade, often enjoy books and are associating pleasure with
being read to and reading.
The beginning reading stage
often includes children from first grade; however, both
younger and older students may be considered in this stage.
Learning individual words and acquiring a sight vocabulary
are two aspects of the beginning reader stage.
Children in the third reading
process stage, building fluency, recognizes many words
automatically and are reading passages several sentences
long without stumbling over words. These students
comprehend what they read for the most part. This is an in
between stage, students are no longer beginners, but are not
yet fluent to become independent readers. The volume of
reading that children do at this stage as well as their
degree of success will have a tremendous impact on their
progress to the next stage (Gillet, Temple, & Crawford,
The fourth stage, reading to
learn and for pleasure, are usually students in grades three
and up. These students are reading chapter books for pure
enjoyment or homework assignments for learning purposes. By
this stage in the reading process, the gap between good
readers and struggling readers begins to widen with regard
to the amount of time they spend reading outside of school
and the number of pages read each week.
The last and final stage in the
reading process is mature reading. Readers in this stage
are capable of making comparisons while reading information
on a particular topic from a variety of sources. These
readers are able to use text read and generate original
ideas of their own. While readers in the lower grades
exhibit some of these skills, this kind of adult reading is
primarily found in and above middle school. However, some
high school and college students experience difficulty
because they have not yet reached this stage in the reading
Spanish language is quickly becoming what many regard as
America’s second language. Our Spanish population is
growing faster than any other ethnicity. However, teachers
are scrambling to meet the demands of English language
learners. Helping these children learn to read and write in
English is critical and until recently, many teachers
programs did not have classes or certifications in place to
educate professionals with this overwhelming task.
According to Cooter and Reutzel 2004, “ELL students acquire
receptive and expressive skills in the same basic ways as
monolingual students. These methods of learning include
developing classification systems from the most basic to the
very complex, increasing the length of utterances in both
spoken and written forms, beginning with short and simple
and gradually growing to the more complex, learning
‘language labels’ for concrete objects and experiences they
have had, and the inclusion of immersion and
learning-by-doing activities as the primary methods of
language development,” (Cooter & Reutzel, 2004). Other
strategies for helping ELL students succeed in the classroom
include labeling the room with environmental print, using
sentence strips for dictated sentences, active listening to
build fluency, and creating personal dictionaries.
English as a second
language usually prevents learners from making full use of
semantic, syntactic, and other clues in content reading
materials. The following strategies are recommended by
Cooter and Reutzel to help ELL students with content reading
demands. Reduce the vocabulary load, preteach vocabulary
concepts prior to reading, use prereading questions, graphic
organizers, and postreading discussion groups.
To maximize the learning
potential of every child, it is vital to enlist the aid of
family members. Parents are seen as valuable assets now
more than ever as a result of No Child Left Behind
legislation. Communication between school and home is
critical. Any communication or involvement for families is
important. Refrigerator reading is one strategy recommended
to reach families. Refrigerator reading includes monthly
newsletters home to families with easy-to-do activities to
help their children. Family projects, voice mail, and buddy
journals are some other strategies Cooter and Reutzel 2004
suggest to get families involved.
acquisition of spoken language is an important component of
brain development. The more vocabulary words children are
exposed to the better success they will see in learning how
to read. The theories of language acquisition and the
stages of oral langauge development are very important to
know as a reading specialist to better prescribe specific
reading strategies to students in today’s literate world.
Cooter, R. B., & Reutzel, D. R. (2004). Teaching children
to read: Putting the pieces together. Upper Sadle River,
NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Gillet, J. W., & Temple, C., Crawford, A. N. (2004).
Understanding reading problems: Assessment and instruction.
Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Click on the links
below for strategies you can use for the following
dimensions of reading.
visiting my webpage!