Factors Affecting Language Development Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development (2023)

Dra. Judith Johnston
University of British Columbia, Canada
, 2nd ed.



Learning to speak is one of the most visible and important achievements of early childhood. In a matter of months, and without explicit guidance, young children go from hesitant words to fluent sentences, and from a small vocabulary to a vocabulary that is growing by six new words a day. New language tools mean new opportunities for social understanding, learning about the world, and sharing experiences, joys, and needs.


The nature of language knowledge.

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Language development is even more impressive when we consider the nature of what is learned. It may seem that children simply need to remember what they hear and repeat it at a later time. But like Chomsky1As he pointed out years ago, we wouldn't be good communicators if that was the essence of language learning. Verbal communication requires productivity, i. H. the ability to generate a variety of expressions that we have never heard before. This endless novelty requires that some aspects of language knowledge be abstract. Finally, the "rules" for combining words cannot be rules about specific words, they must be rules aboutThe lessonof words such as nouns, verbs or prepositions. Once these abstract blueprints are available, the speaker can fill in the "blanks" in a sentence with words that best convey the message of the moment. Chomsky's key point was that since abstractions can never be experienced directly, they must arise from the child's own mental activity in hearing language.

issues and context

o Debatte

The type of mental activity underlying language learning is a subject of much debate among children's language professionals. A group of theorists argue that language input merely activates grammatical knowledge that is already genetically available.2The opposition argues that grammatical knowledge results from the way the human mind analyzes and organizes information, not innate.3This debate reflects fundamentally different beliefs about human development and is unlikely to be resolved. However, there are at least two areas where there is a substantial consensus that can guide educators and policymakers: (a) the predictability of the language learning course; and (b) its multideterminate character.

research results

predictable language strings

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By and large, the observable "facts" of language development are not up for debate. Most children start speaking by age two, and by age two they probably know at least 50 words and are combining them into short sentences.4Once the vocabulary reaches around 200 words, the rate of word learning increases dramatically and grammatical function words like articles and prepositions begin to appear with some consistency.5During the preschool years, sentence patterns become more complex and vocabulary diversifies to include relational terms expressing notions of size, place, quantity, and time.6By the age of four to six, most children have acquired basic sentence grammar.7From there, children learn to use language more efficiently and effectively. You will also learn to create and maintain larger language units such as conversation or narrative.8Although there are individual differences in the rate of development, the order in which the different forms appear is highly predictable, both within and between stages.9

Determining Factors

There is also broad agreement that the course of language development reflects the interplay of factors in at least five domains: social, perceptual, cognitive processing, conceptual, and linguistic. Theorists vary in the emphasis and degree of determination posited for a particular area, but most agree that each is relevant. There is a wealth of research supporting the view that language learning is influenced by many aspects of human experience and ability. I will mention two findings in each area that reflect the flavor of the available evidence.


  1. Young children infer a speaker's communicative intentand use this information to guide your language learning. For example, as early as 24 months, they can infer from an adult's excited tone and physical environment alone that a new word must refer to an object that was placed on the table during the adult's absence.10
  2. The language environment influences language learning.. Between the ages of one and three, children from verbal “professional” families heard almost three times as many words per week as children from verbal “wellness” families. Longitudinal data show aspects of this beginningparentalSpeech to predict speech outcomes at age nine.11


  1. The perception of the child sets the framework. Auditory perception skills at 6 or 12 months can predict vocabulary size and syntactic complexity at 23 months.12
  2. perception matters. In English, the forms that are challenging for students with disabilities are forms with reduced perceptual emphasis, e.g. B. those that have no accent or are joined together in a consonant cluster.13

cognitive processes

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  1. Frequency affects learning speed. Children who hear an unusually high proportion of examples of a form of speech learn that form faster than children who are given ordinary information.14
  2. “Offsets” between different language domainsIt can happen that the entire specific sentence requires more mental resources than the child has available. For example, children make more mistakes with small grammatical forms such as verb endings and prepositions in complex syntax sentences than in simple syntax sentences.fifteen


  1. Relationship concepts are associated with mental age.Words that express ideas of time, causality, location, size, and order correlate much more strongly with mental age than words that simply refer to objects and events.sixteenIn addition, children learning different languages ​​learn to talk about spatial locations, such asnoÖNextin practically the same order, regardless of the grammatical features of your specific language.17
  2. Language skills are influenced by knowledge of the world.. Children who have trouble remembering a word also know less about the objects to which the word refers.18


  1. Verb endings are clues to the meaning of verbs. When a verb ends in -ing, three-year-olds decide it refers to aExercise,such asNadar, instead of onefull state change,such asTo press.19
  2. Current vocabulary influences new learning. Young children often decide that a new word refers to an object they don't already have a name for.6


nature and education

These are just some of the insights that, taken together, speak convincingly for the iterative nature of the development. Children accomplish the task of learning languages ​​with perceptual mechanisms that work in specific ways and with finite capacities for attention and memory. At the very least, these cognitive systems will affect what is perceived during language input and may be critical to the learning process. Likewise, the children's previous experiences with the material and social world provide the first basis for the interpretation of the language heard. Later they will also use sign language. However, language acquisition does not occur exclusively from within. The structure of the language to be learned and the frequency with which the different forms are heard also have an effect. Despite theoretical debates, it seems clear that language proficiency reflects knowledge and skills in virtually all domains and should not be viewed in isolation.

Pedagogical and political implications

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Educators and policymakers often ignore preschoolers whose language seems to lag behind in other areas, arguing that these children are "a little behind" in language. Rather, research suggests that language acquisition should be viewed as an important barometer of success in complex integrative tasks. As we have just seen, when language “fails” other domains are also involved, either as a cause or as a result. In fact, leading epidemiological studies have shown that children diagnosed at age four with certain language disorders (i.e. delays in language acquisition)sinsensorimotor, mood disorder, or delay) are at high risk for academic failure and mental health problems in adulthood.20,21Fortunately, research also shows that language learning can be accelerated.22Although the child should create the abstract patterns from the language data, we can facilitate this learning by (a) presenting language examples that match the child's perceptual, social, and cognitive resources; and (b) choose learning objectives that are consistent with the common developmental trajectory.


  1. Chomsky N. A Review of BF Skinner's Verbal Conduct.language1959; 35:26-58.
  2. Pinker S.Language learning and language development. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; 1984.
  3. Elman JL, Bates EA, Johnson MH, Karmiloff-Smith A, Parisi D, Plunkett K.Rethinking the innate: a connectionist perspective on development. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press; 1996.
  4. Rescorla L. Language development research: A screening tool for delayed language in young children.Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders1989;54(4):587-599.
  5. E Bates, JC Goodman. On the inseparability of grammar and lexicon: Evidence for acquisition, aphasia, and real-time processing.Language and cognitive processes1997;12(5-6):507-584.
  6. Clark EV.The vocabulary at acquisition. Nova York, Nova York: Cambridge University Press; 1993.
  7. Paul R. Analysis of the development of complex sentences. In: Miller JF.Assessing Speech Production in Children:Experimental Procedures. Baltimore, Maryland: University Park Press; 1981: 36-40.
  8. Owens R.Language development: an introduction. 5aBoston Edition, Messe: Allyn and Bacon; 2001.
  9. Crystal D, Fletcher P, Garman M.The grammatical analysis of language deficits: an evaluation and remedial procedure. London, UK: Edward Arnold; 1976
  10. Akhtar N, Carpenter M, Tomasello M. The role of discursive novelty in early word learning.Development of the child1996;67(2):635-645.
  11. Hart B, Risley TR.Significant differencesin the everyday experience of American children. Baltimore, Maryland: P.H. Brooke; 1995.
  12. Trehub SE, Henderson JL. Temporal resolution and later language development.Journal of Speech and Hearing Research1996;39(6):1315-1320.
  13. Leonard L. The use of morphology by children with specific language problems: Evidence from three languages. In: Chapman RS, ed.Processes in language acquisition and disorders. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby yearbook; 1992: 186-201.
  14. Nelson KE, Camarata SM, Welsh J, Butkovsky L, Camarata M. Effects of imitative and conversational rephrasing treatment on grammar acquisition in children with specific language disorders and younger normal language children.Journal of Speech and Hearing Research1996;39(4):850-859.
  15. Namazi M, Johnston J. Performance and Language Evolution in SLI. Paper presented at: Research Symposium on Child Language Disorders; 1997; Madison, Wisconsin
  16. Johnston JR, Slobin DI. The development of locative expressions in English, Italian, Serbo-Croatian and Turkish.Language magazine for children1979;6(3):529-545.
  17. KK McGregor, RM Friedman, RM Reilly, RM Newman. Semantic representation and naming in young children.Journal of Speech-Language-Hearing Research2002;45(2):332-346.
  18. Carr L, Johnston J. Morphological Notes on Verb Meaning.Applied Psycholinguistics2001;22(4):601-618.
  19. Fazio BB, Johnston JR, Brandl L. Relationship between mental age and vocabulary development in children with mild intellectual disabilities.American Journal of the Intellectual Disability1993;97(5):541-546.
  20. Beichman JH, Wilson B, Johnson CJ, Atkinson L, Young A, Adlaf E, Escobar M, Douglas L. Fourteen-year follow-up of children with language/language problems and management: psychiatric outcome.Zeitschrift der American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry2001;40(1):75-82.
  21. Young AR, Beichman JH, Johnson C, Douglas L, Atkinson L, Escobar M, Wilson B. Academic outcomes of young adults in a longitudinal control sample and children with early identified language problems.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Related Disciplines2002;43(5):635-645.
  22. Nye C, Foster SH, Seaman D. Effectiveness of language intervention in people with language/learning disabilities.Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders1987;52(4):348-357.

To cite this article:

Johnston J. Factors influencing language development. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Rvachew S, Subject eds.Encyclopedia of early childhood development[in line].https://www.child-encyclopedia.com/language-development-and-literacy/according-experts/factors-influence-language-development. Updated January 2010. Accessed December 28, 2022.

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(Video) Influences on Literacy


What are the factors that influence language development? ›

9 Factors that Influence Language Learning for Kids
  • Motivation. Is the child being forced to learn, or do they want to learn the language? ...
  • Support at Home. Is another language spoken at the child's home? ...
  • Prior Linguistic Knowledge. ...
  • Learning Environment. ...
  • Teaching Strategies. ...
  • Comprehensible Input. ...
  • Student Personality. ...
  • Age.

What are the factors affecting language development and emergent literacy? ›

Environment and parental influence. Reading. Speech, hearing, or vision impairments. Socio-economic factors.

What are the 5 main external factors affecting language change? ›

Indeed, several factors contribute to language change, invented words, borrowing, new technologies, trades and migration often occurring in response to social, economic and political pressures if enough users alter the way the language should be spoken.

What factors affect children's speech and language delays? ›

Multilingual family environment, positive family history of speech–language delay, consanguinity, low paternal education, and low maternal education were found to be associated with speech–language delay. There was a statistically significant difference between the two groups for these five factors.

What are the 3 factors that can influence the decline of a language? ›

But factors that have caused the decline of certain languages, can be grouped as economic changes, demography, institutional support and status.

How do social factors affect language development? ›

As the social phenomena, language is inseparable from daily human life. The social factors which influence speaking such as relationship of the role between speaker and listener, education, age, sex, place of the action, aim of speaking, social status.

What are the four factors affecting language policy? ›

Four principal factors have so far been presented as fundamental in determining the language policy of a nation: the sociolinguistic situation, the national ideology, the existence of English as a world language, and notions of language rights.

What are six factors that can affect language development? ›

The factors are: 1. General Health and Physical Status 2. Intelligence and Cognitive Development 3. Learning and Maturation 4.

How do environmental factors affect language development? ›

Exposure to rich, varied and complex language in the early years improves language development, as does parental responsiveness and sensitivity. Learning materials present in the home. Researchers observed the homes they visited.

What are the 5 components of language development? ›

Linguists have identified five basic components (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) found across languages.

What are the 4 components of language development? ›

Language is a complex system involving several components. The components of language include phonology, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics. Language development occurs in a fairly predictable fashion. Most typically developing children acquire the skills in each of the four areas by the end of their ninth year of life.

What can affect a child's communication and language? ›

Diagnosed conditions which can affect children's speech, language and communication
  • Autism. ...
  • Developmental Language Disorder. ...
  • Down's syndrome. ...
  • Glue ear. ...
  • Hearing impairments. ...
  • Selective mutism. ...
  • Stammering.

What is the most common cause of language delays in toddlers? ›

The most common underlying reason is a condition known as “Childhood Apraxia Of Speech” or CAS. In these cases, the toddler may have problems controlling the muscles used for speech. This might include problems with the lips, tongue, or jaw.

What are three main problems with language? ›

Different Types of Language Problems and their Causes
  • Expressive Language Disorders and Delay.
  • Receptive Language Delay (understanding and comprehension)
  • Specific Language Impairment (SLI)
  • Auditory Processing Disorder.

What are the 3 components of language development? ›

There are three major components of language. These components are form, content, and use. Form involves three sub-components of syntax, morphology, and phonology.

What are the main causes of language barriers? ›

Language barriers usually occur when two people who speak different languages cannot understand one another, and there is a breakdown in language and communication. They can also come from physical language disabilities which include stuttering, articulation disorder and hearing loss.

What are the most important factors in learning any language? ›

Experience is the best teacher. Having the chance to talk with a native English speaker is important, when studying the language. Students can practice their skills through conversation. Students learn proper pronunciation and intonation through conversation.

What social factors affect language learning? ›

Specific social factors that can affect second language acquisition include age, gender, social class, and ethnic identity. Situational factors are those which vary between each social interaction.

What is language development in early childhood? ›

What is language development? Language development is the process through which children acquire the ability to process speech and communicate. During this process, a child may slowly understand basic linguistic patterns and expand their vocabulary gradually before achieving fluency.

What causes language problems in children? ›

Causes of language disorders include: Medical conditions or disabilities, such as autism, a brain injury, stroke or tumor. Birth defects such as Down syndrome (trisomy 21), fragile X syndrome, or cerebral palsy.

What are the factors affecting language acquisition and language learning? ›

Motivation, attitude, age, intelligence, aptitude, cognitive style, and personality are considered as factors that greatly influence someone in the process of his or her second language acquisition.


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