Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Language Acquisition in Children

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
X
Illustration You have already viewed an explanation Register now and access this and thousands of further explanations for free
English

Language acquisition refers to how humans develop the ability to understand and use language. There are four main stages of language acquisition in children. Let's take a look at them.

Babbling stage

The babbling stage is the first significant stage of language acquisition in children. It occurs at around 6 months until about 12 months of age. During this stage, the child hears speech syllables (sounds that make up spoken language) from its environment and caregivers and attempts to imitate by repeating them. There are two types of babbling: canonical babbling and variegated babbling.

  • Canonical babbling is what we call the type of babbling that emerges first. This consists of the same syllables being repeated over and over. An example of this is when a baby says 'ga ga ga' or vocalises a similar string of repeated syllables.

  • Variegated babbling is when different syllables are used in the babbling sequence. Instead of using one syllable repeatedly, the child uses a variety. An example of this would be something like 'ga ba da'. This occurs around two months after canonical babbling starts, at around eight months of age. Children may also begin to use intonation that resembles actual speech at this stage, while still only producing meaningless sounds.

Holophrastic Stage

The holophrastic stage of language acquisition in children is also known as the ‘one-word stage.’ This typically occurs around the age of 12 to 18 months. At this stage, children have identified which words and combinations of syllables are the most effective for communicating. They may use these words to attempt to communicate a full sentence's worth of information. For example, a child may say 'dada' which could mean anything from ‘I want dad’ to ‘where is dad?’. This is known as holophrasis.

A child's first word will often resemble a babble, as while they may hear and understand a wide range of sounds, they can still only produce a limited range themselves. These words are known as proto words. Despite sounding like babbles, they still work as words because the child has assigned meaning to them. Children may also use real words and typically adapt them to suit their speaking ability. Sometimes these words are used incorrectly as the child attempts to learn and use them. For example, they may call every animal a cat if they grew up with one.

Language Acquisition in Children A toddler identifying something his father is pointing at StudySmarterA toddler identifying something his father is pointing at

Two-word stage

The two-word stage occurs at around 18 months of age. At this stage, children are able to use two words in the right grammatical order. However, the words they use tend to exclusively be content words (words that hold and convey meaning). They often leave out function words (words that hold a sentence together, such as articles, prepositions, etc.).

For example, a child might see a dog jump over the fence and simply say ‘dog jump’ instead of ‘A dog jumped over the fence.’ The order is correct and they say the most important word, but the lack of function words, as well as a lack of tense use, makes the information very context-dependent, much like in the holophrastic stage.

At this stage, the child’s vocabulary starts at around 50 words and consists mostly of commonly used nouns and verbs. These often come from things their caregivers have said or taught them or things in their immediate environment or home. Typically, as the child progresses through the two-word stage, the ‘word spurt’ occurs, which is a relatively short period during which the child's vocabulary grows much larger. Most children know 50 words by around 17 months of age, but by 24 months they may know up to over 600.¹

The multi-word stage

The multi-word stage of language acquisition in children can be broken up into two distinct sub-stages: the early multi-word stage and the later multi-word stage. These sub-stages start at around two years old and have no definite endpoint. Children move on from two-word phrases and begin to form short sentences of around three, four, and five words, and eventually even more. They also eventually begin to use more and more function words and are able to form more complex sentences as they progress through this stage. Children typically progress rapidly through this stage as they understand many of the basics of their language already.

Language Acquisition in Children, A 2 year old reading a book, StudySmarterA two-year-old reading a book with their mother

The early multi-word stage

The early part of this stage is sometimes called the ‘telegraphic stage’ as the children's sentences seem to resemble telegram messages due to their simplicity. The telegraphic stage takes place from around 24 to 30 months of age and mainly differs from the two-word stage by the number of words used. Children mostly ignore function words in favour of using the most important content words. At this stage, children usually start using negatives (no, not, can't, etc.) and in general, they tend to ask more questions about their surroundings.

An example of how a child might talk at this substage might be, ‘no want veggies’ instead of ‘I don't want vegetables with my food.While children at this substage still don't use function words in their own sentences, many do understand them when others use them.

The later multi-word stage

The later multi-word stage is also known as the complex stage. It is the final part of language acquisition. It starts at around 30 months of age and has no fixed endpoint. At this stage, children move on from simply using a string of the most important content words in a sentence and start to use a variety of function words and an ever-growing vocabulary. There is a large increase in the amount of words children can use in a sentence as they go through this stage, and their sentence structures become a lot more complex and varied.

Children in this stage have a concrete sense of time, quantity, and the ability to engage in simple reasoning. This means they can talk confidently in different tenses, and verbally explain ideas such as putting ‘some’ or ‘all’ of their toys away. They can also start to explain why and how they think or feel things, and may also ask others.

As children reach the age of five and above, their ability to use and understand language becomes a lot less limited and they are more or less fluent. Many children still struggle with pronunciations around the age at which they start school, but they are able to understand when others use sounds they may not be able to replicate. Eventually, older children gain the ability to confidently read, write and explore a variety of new topics and ideas. Typically, school will help children to further develop their linguistic skills.

Language Acquisition in Children - Key takeaways

  • There are four main stages of language acquisition: the Babbling stage, holophrastic stage, two-word stage, and multi-word stage.
  • The babbling stage consists of the repetition of phonemes and takes place at around six months of age. There are two types of babbling: canonical babbling (one phoneme) and variegated babbling (multiple phonemes).
  • The holophrastic or one-word stage consists of the child using one word that they have either learned or created to perform the same function as a sentence. It takes place from around 12 to 18 months of age.
  • The two-word stage is similar to the holophrastic stage, but with the use of two words and a greater understanding of language. It takes place at around 18 months of age.
  • The multi-word stage consists of two substages: the telegraphic stage and the complex stage. It starts at around two years old. The telegraphic stage is very similar to the two-word stage but with more words and a few differences such as the use of negatives and asking more questions.
  • The complex stage starts at around 30 months of age and has no definite endpoint. At the complex stage, children develop skills such as the use of function words, the ability to talk in tenses and in terms of time and quantity, and better reasoning skills.

¹ Fenson et al., Lexical development norms for young children, 1993.

Language Acquisition in Children

The four stages are the Babbling stage, holophrastic stage, two-word stage, and multi-word stage.

The telegraphic stage consists of very simple sentences of one to five words with no function words, while the complex stage consists of more complex, longer, complete sentences.

These stages are true for the majority of neurotypical children raised in a normal environment.

The prelinguistic stage of language acquisition takes place from birth to six months of age and includes crying and cooing.

Final Language Acquisition in Children Quiz

Question

What is meant by language acquisition?

Show answer

Answer

The process of humans developing the ability to understand and use language.

Show question

Question

What is meant by language acquisition?

Show answer

Answer

The process of humans developing the ability to understand and use language.

Show question

Question

What happens in the babbling stage of language acquisition?

Show answer

Answer

The child repeats sounds with a combination of consonants and vowels.

Show question

Question

What are the types of babbling and how do they differ?


Show answer

Answer

Canonical babbling is the duplication of the same syllables, variegated babbling is the repetition of different vowel and consonant combination syllables. Jargon babbling is when the babbling begins to sound like a conversation.

Show question

Question

When does the babbling stage of language acquisition occur?


Show answer

Answer

The babbling stage occurs from six to twelve months old.

Show question

Question

When do infants typically learn their first words?


Show answer

Answer

Infants normally learn their first words at 1 year of age.

Show question

Question

True or false? Infants develop the ability to babble after the larynx has descended in the throat.


Show answer

Answer

True, before the larynx descends in the throat, infants' ability to make sounds are very limited.

Show question

Question

True or false? An infant can produce meaningful sounds once they can move their jaw.


Show answer

Answer

False. Movement of the jaw and phonation is required for an infant to make meaningful sounds.

Show question

Question

True or false? Babbling is only possible for children that can make sounds.


Show answer

Answer

False. There is a form of babbling known as manual babbling were children that learn sign language babble through the use of physical movements.

Show question

Question

Can infants with autism babble?


Show answer

Answer

Yes, they can babble, although the time for babbling to start may be delayed.

Show question

Question

True or false? Deaf children can't make sounds.


Show answer

Answer

False. Deaf children will cry, coo and make sounds after birth. Deaf children may experience difficulty in developing language skills depending on the severity of the hearing impairment.

Show question

Question

What happens in the one-word stage of language acquisition?

Show answer

Answer

Infants begin using single words to communicate more complex ideas to the adults around them.

Show question

Question

What type of speech sounds do infants first learn?


Show answer

Answer

Infants usually learn to enunciate vowels first.

Show question

Question

At what age does the one-word stage take place?


Show answer

Answer

Typically from 12 to 18 months of age.

Show question

Question

True or false: Consonants are easier to enunciate than vowels.


Show answer

Answer

False. Vowels are easier to enunciate since they can be produced without any stricture in the vocal tract.

Show question

Question

Why is the enunciation of consonants usually learned after vowels?


Show answer

Answer

The pronunciation of consonants requires a partly or fully obstructed vocal tract, making them technically more difficult to pronounce than vowels.

Show question

Question

True or false: Infants use new letters that they have learned at the start of a word.


Show answer

Answer

True. Enunciating a new letter is easier when it's at the beginning of a word.

Show question

Question

What is meant by overextending a word?


Show answer

Answer

When a word is given a broader meaning than its intended meaning.

Show question

Question

What is meant by underextending a word?


Show answer

Answer

When a word is given a narrower meaning than its intended meaning.

Show question

Question

Why do infants substitute sounds in words?


Show answer

Answer

If they aren't able to enunciate a sound in a word, they will replace it with a sound that they can enunciate, which leave the interpretation to the adults.

Show question

Question

True or false: The use of substitution for sounds is rule-governed.


Show answer

Answer

True. Infants always use the same sound as a substitute for a sound they can't produce.

Show question

Question

How many words do toddlers typically know at the start of the two-word phrase?

Show answer

Answer

50

Show question

Question

True or false: Toddlers typically use adjectives when talking in the two-word stage.


Show answer

Answer

False. Toddlers in the two-word stage often use nouns and verbs in their speech.

Show question

Question

Why do adults find it difficult sometimes to interpret a toddlers' speech?


Show answer

Answer

Toddlers rarely use function words and grammatical morphemes in their speech, they mainly use content words. This makes their sentences contextually dependent.

Show question

Question

True or false: A toddlers' speech could have multiple meanings.


Show answer

Answer

True. Since toddlers' speech rarely includes syntactic markings, it becomes difficult to interpret what the toddler is saying with certainty.

Show question

Question

Why does an adult need to consider the context of a toddlers' speech?


Show answer

Answer

The context is helpful in adding information to the toddlers' speech, which can help it to make more sense.

Show question

Question

True or false: Pivot words are often the first word in a two-word phrase.


Show answer

Answer

True. Although pivot words can appear as the second word, they typically appear as the first word.

Show question

Question

What type of word usually makes on 'open' word?


Show answer

Answer

Open words are usually nouns or verbs and form the content part of a phrase.

Show question

Question

What is assimilation?


Show answer

Answer

When a difficult sound is replaced with an easier one to help with pronunciation.

Show question

Question

What is a gliding error?


Show answer

Answer

When liquid sounds (l and r) are replaced with glide sounds (w and y).

Show question

Question

Which of the following phrases is a stop error?


Show answer

Answer

'Sea' is pronounced as 'tea'.

Show question

Question

True or false: The early multi-word stage is sometimes called the telegraphic stage.

Show answer

Answer

True. The children's sentences resemble telegram messages due to their simplicity.

Show question

Question

True or false: The later multi-word stage ends at around 6 years old.


Show answer

Answer

False. It has no fixed endpoint since learning a language is a lifelong process.

Show question

Question

True or false: Children acquire the use of morphemes randomly.


Show answer

Answer

False. Research has found that children learn how to use morphemes in a predictable order. 

Show question

Question

What factor governs the order that children learn morphemes?


Show answer

Answer

The complexity of the grammatical rule that the morpheme is applied in.

Show question

Question

How does the use of intonation help children ask questions?


Show answer

Answer

Children can adjust the intonation of specific words in a sentence to make it clearer to the listener that they are asking a question.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is a negative statement?


Show answer

Answer

'That's not my toy.'

Show question

Question

Which of the following sentences uses a past regular morpheme?


Show answer

Answer

'He landed on the floor.'

Show question

Question

Which of the following sentences uses a possessive morpheme?


Show answer

Answer

'That's Bill's car.'

Show question

Question

Which of the following sentences uses a past irregular morpheme?


Show answer

Answer

'Daddy ate it all.'

Show question

Question

Which of the following sentences uses a past irregular morpheme?


Show answer

Answer

'Daddy ate it all.'

Show question

Question

At what age do children stop making mistakes in articulation?

Show answer

Answer

Children usually stop making mistakes in articulation at around 6 to 7 years old.

Show question

Question

What does language acquisition mean?

Show answer

Answer

Language acquisition refers to the way humans are able to develop the ability to understand and use language.

Show question

Question

What happens in the babbling stage of language acquisition?


Show answer

Answer

 In the babbling stage of language acquisition, the child repeats phonemes in a sequence.

Show question

Question

What are the two types of babbling and how do they differ?


Show answer

Answer

The two types of babbling are canonical and variegated babbling. Canonical babbling is the repetition of one phoneme and variegated babbling is the repetition of different phonemes.

Show question

Question

When does the babbling stage of language acquisition occur?


Show answer

Answer

The babbling stage occurs from six to twelve months old.

Show question

Question

What happens in the holophrastic stage of language acquisition?


Show answer

Answer

In the holophrastic stage, children begin to learn or create words and use one word in place of a sentence.

Show question

Question

What is another name for the words that children create in the holophrastic stage?


Show answer

Answer

The words children create are examples of proto words.

Show question

Question

What is holophrasis?


Show answer

Answer

Holophrasis is the act of using one word instead of a complete sentence or phrase.

Show question

Question

When does the holophrastic stage occur?


Show answer

Answer

The holophrastic stage typically occurs around the age of 12 to 18 months.

Show question

More about Language Acquisition
60%

of the users don't pass the Language Acquisition in Children quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.