Language Development: Meaning and Theories

A baby starts out cooing and then begins to babble, followed by acquiring the knowledge of words in native languages from parents and those around oneself. Throughout life, one continues to learn new words and develop linguistic abilities. The area of study that explores these themes is called language development.

What is Language Development?

Language development studies how one acquires and uses language in daily life. Language acquisition is quite an intricate task, and it is very difficult and complex to learn the language of one's culture. Children must acquire four fundamental elements of a language to comprehend and use it successfully. They must first understand phonology, or the study of how words sound, in order to be able to produce the sounds that make up any given the word. They must also learn semantics or the meanings of many different words. Thirdly, they must be proficient in syntax, which refers to the rules for how words can be properly combined to construct phrases and sentences that make sense. Finally, kids need to learn how to speak effectively with others by mastering social conventions, the pragmatics of language, and speaking techniques.

Language Development in Children

Children start to speak on average at around a year old. Nevertheless, according to experimental research, even young infants who appear to be prelinguistic learn a lot about the sounds, vocabulary, and even the grammatical rules of their language within their first year of life. The most pronounced development occurs in vocabulary throughout a child's second year. Typically, children produce their first word at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year, they have a productive vocabulary of 300 words and create word combinations. Their language could sound more mature. During this second year, phonological representations and articulation skills both alter. Additionally, kids are speaking increasingly, and the quantity and conversational value of their communicative acts increase.

Children's growing command of their language's grammar is the most visible development throughout the third year of life. Typically, children start this year with two- and three-word affirmative, declarative sentences that lack grammatical endings on nouns and verbs, including plural markers and past-tense markers. Children were forming whole sentences by the end of the third year, including inquiries and negated forms with most grammatical structures in place. Children's vocabularies continue to expand, their ability to enunciate sounds increases, and they start to become aware of the phonological features of their language, as shown, for instance, by their enjoyment of rhymes. As their verbal abilities develop, kids start incorporating brief recounts of the past into their interactions.

The first three to four years are primarily spent honing and strengthening the already-present talents. Children now start to write complex, multi-clause sentences, which is the most visible new development in grammar. It is often believed that language learning is finished during the first four years of life because there is typically nothing lacking from the linguistic competence of most 4-year-old children. Although there is some truth to that, language development in all areas continues after the age of four. These communication skills—articulation, vocabulary, sentence structure—develop. Children go through many changes as they migrate from the home to the classroom and pick up new language skills; changes in language knowledge are also related to changes in literacy development.

Theoretical Perspectives

There have been several perspectives on language development. These are as follows−

Early Theories of Modelling and Reinforcement

Some early theorists asserted that modeling—in which children merely mimic the speech of others—is the primary cause of language development. According to the behaviorist B. F. Skinner (1957), reinforcement also plays a part since it encourages or otherwise rewards children's use of increasingly complicated language by parents and other adults in their environment.


Some theorists have used biology to explain how language develops, a strategy known as nativism. Noam Chomsky, a pioneer in the field, claimed that developing children have a biologically inherent mechanism—a language acquisition device—that enables them to learn a wide range of complicated linguistic concepts quickly.

Information Processing Theory

Theorists of information processing emphasize the cognitive mechanisms kids employ to learn a language. The ability to pay attention is a crucial component of language learning from the viewpoint of information processing. From this standpoint, reasoning and working memory are likewise seen as being very significant. According to researchers, neural commitments to specific linguistic features are formed throughout early life.

Sociocultural Theory

Sociocultural theorists concentrate more on how social interactions influence language development. From this angle, language use is socialized in children. This type of language socialization includes direct instruction in language usage and covert ways of expressing proper linguistic behaviors.


These theorists look at why children want to learn a language. From an evolutionary perspective, language was developed to enable better interactions, i.e., it serves a function. Language provides control and power, and children are aware of this fact. Hence, they learn to communicate through languages.

Applied Research Areas

Since socio-economic-cultural factors play a major role in the overall development of a child, they also influence how language is acquired and used by a child. Therefore, Understanding the nature of cultural disparities in language use and how teaching strategies might be developed best to serve kids with diverse language use styles are the main goals of applied research in language development.

Additionally, for many kids, learning a second language is part of the language-learning process. Children occasionally have to acquire a new language when they start school because the language they are exposed to at home may not be the same as their school's language. Some children are exposed to and learn two or more languages from birth, while others immigrate to or are adopted into a nation where the language is different. In addition to raising interesting questions regarding how children become proficient in several languages, the social reality of many children's multilingual experiences presents difficulties for school systems tasked with educating kids from such families.

Children with various health disorders, such as mental retardation, hearing loss, or brain injury, find it difficult to develop adequate language abilities. Even when there does not appear to be any other kind of impediment, some kids have trouble learning to speak. A sizable corpus of research aims to comprehend the nature of the issues that underlie such children's difficulties and to identify methods for assisting these kids in learning language skills.


Language development is a complicated process that takes place throughout one's life but is highly active in the first few developmental years. It is studied from various perspectives to understand how language is acquired to help children communicate easily. However, there remain questions that are still debated widely within the field. One important unanswered question is- which comes first: language comprehension or production?

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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