Children’s Language Class can include basic social skills as well as the more advanced theories of cognitive development. The latter focuses on the early cognitive processes that determine later abilities and aptitude. The goal is for these classes to provide the child with “the tools they need to learn how to talk, learn how to read, write, and understand how to interact with others.” This helps build on the child’s innate knowledge base which develops through interaction with the people in their environment. A toddler’s development is extremely fragile and can be greatly affected by environmental cues. For this reason it is essential to teach the skills that will be needed to cope with these changes and to establish effective communication channels.
A toddler’s language learning goals should include learning about the differences between languages and how these differences impact upon the learner’s ability to interact with others. This can be accomplished through an enrichment program that includes both the new language and cultural information that are salient to the toddler’s culture. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, including lessons on the family, toys, songs, stories, food, words, and phrases. The best way is to integrate these materials into the toddler’s daily routine.
Building strong multilingual connections starts in the home when children are young. Many parents send their children to a multilingual preschool or to a summer camp that encourages these activities. There are now children’s preschools that accept children of different cultures so that they can enjoy the best of both worlds. They can live in the familiar American-Christian community, but can also explore other cultures through music, arts and crafts, and physical activities. On the other hand, there are summer camps that limit the children to spending one night in each country over a two week vacation. Although it may seem limiting, these programs are very effective because they build strong multilingual connections that last throughout the toddler’s childhood and into the next stage of life.
Building strong multilingual connections is much easier if parents and caregivers to take part in structured experiments. These can be as wide ranging as a month-long immersion in a second language with only parents or caregivers or as simple as giving children a set of words or a set of phrases and then watching how they connect with each other over a period of time. Some researchers have used what is known as a stratified sampling approach. This means that for some children, one or two phrases or words from a new language were introduced into their daily routine over a month or so and then monitored closely to see if children developed any language skills for using these phrases when speaking.
Of course, this does not always work out the way researchers would like. Sometimes, children do not develop a language pattern over a long period of time and therefore do not show a consistent pattern for learning over a month. But if a month long experiment is conducted, then a reliable causal relationship can be established. For example, a child who learns at level one from a parent who speaks that language, but who then never uses the learned vocabulary develops an understanding of this word to the extent that he or she can use it in conversation. A parent who speaks a different language, but one which is a level 2 or higher than the child’s has not reached a cognitive level where he or she can talk about this word, even if he or she never uses it in everyday conversation.
Therefore, for any experimental procedures to be considered as valid, parents and teachers must participate in a month long or longer study using a similar methodology. This way, a causal relationship between exposure to language learning materials and social interaction can be established. If, for example, a clinical psychologist decides to include a level 1 or level 2 language in a clinical trial, and then uses a stratified sampling approach to randomly select from a sample of children, then children may indeed learn new words and phrases from hearing these words spoken by their therapists. In effect, children are exposed to a clinical trial involving speech therapy and then engage in a month long experimental procedure to determine the extent to which these words and phrases stick in their memory and in their usage at home. If nothing else, this procedure may establish the effectiveness of this particular clinical intervention.
But what about language acquisition? Does it follow that children learn language acquisition when they hear these words and phrases? No, there is one very important caveat. This is a very sensitive area of children and parenting, because it is virtually impossible to predict exactly what language acquisition will happen without actual exposure to language acquisition materials. Thus, the use of a clinical control and a placebo in the clinical trials above would simply measure the response rate for these materials, and not the true acquisition of language.
In any event, it is clear from these examples that there are many gray areas in the picture of children’s and family life experiences. Language acquisition is neither simple nor straightforward, and there is no easy way to predict where a child will fall on the spectrum from level one to level two in terms of language acquisition. It really depends on a number of factors, including individual intelligence, family environment, and the developmental course of the child. In the final analysis, it seems clear that the best way to judge children’s and family life experiences is to look at the kids’ performance in the social skills and academic assessments (which should be done independently of clinical procedures by qualified professionals). That being said, these clinical trials provide a window into how children and families navigate these difficult waters.