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Language Learning: How Does it Happen?
By, Lauren Turk, MS, CCC-SLP
As babies are immersed in their culture, they learn the sounds of their native language, the vocabulary, syntax and the social behaviors that go along with it. If you think about it, within a relatively short time, they become fluent speakers of their native language. Despite the ease at which it appears they acquire language, learning to speak a language is a complex process that does not rely solely on what babies hear in their environment.
One important and obvious necessity that must be in place in order to produce speech is our physical structures. The structures that help us produce sounds include our vocal folds that vibrate and allow us to make sounds in accompaniment with our oral structures of our lips, tongue and teeth that change shape to produce the different sounds of our language.
Aside from the anatomical structures that allow us to physically speak and aside from the experiences from our environment, research has taught us that our brains are innately pre-wired to learn language. So usage and experience are at play, but it is not one factor alone that determines language acquisition. Some researchers believe that there is a universal grammar that babies are born with to help them understand and map out the grammatical rules for language and not a particular language itself.
The innateness of language offers the necessary "blueprints" to acquire language, but It is clear that the presence of an adult model plays an important role in language acquisition as well. So, when you engage with your baby, you are making a difference and helping him learn language. It is important to talk directly to your baby, emphasizing words, making eye contact, etc... You can make any everyday activity an opportunity for language learning, like diaper changing, getting dressed, bath time, tummy time, any time at all.