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Masters in Educational Practice: Child and adolescent development 0-19


Speech, language and communication development



Communication is the ability to pass information from one person to another. It involves the expression of meaning in a form that the other person can understand, and the reception and interpretation of that information. From birth, humans have an inbuilt desire to communicate with others, and for most of us this involves the use of spoken language. While this topic focuses on the development of verbal communication, most of the principles discussed are also relevant to the acquisition and use of sign language.

Successful communication assumes the capacity to produce sounds that convey meaning to the intended audience: in essence, communication involves knowledge of which sounds are included in a particular language and which are not (the inventory of sounds), and whether those sounds can start a word, end a word, or can follow each other. Knowing a language also means knowing what combinations of sounds represent meaning. Speakers of English understand that ‘boy’ means something different from ‘toy’ while such speech sounds may be incomprehensible to a speaker of another language. The sounds of words assigned to an object are completely arbitrary and not governed by a particular shape or any other physical attribute.

But knowing the sounds and the words of a language is not enough. To communicate successfully, speakers of a language have to know all the grammatical rules and the exceptions that govern the way words are put together; how to combine words into phrases, sentences and whole meaningful utterances, along with social rules of when certain expressions are appropriate and when they would be frowned upon.


Watch and reflect on these clips which further demonstrate the concepts of language development:

How Children Acquire and Produce Language (BBC, 2001)

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Nourishing language development in early childhood

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It is this process of language acquisition that children master during their first few years of life without even realising they are doing it. Recognising what is typical development and what is expected of children at a certain age allows you to recognise what is ‘atypical’ and not expected.

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