Language and Child Development

Language is one of the most fascinating human capacities. Charles Darwin, in his book “The Descent of Man” says that man has an instinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble of our young children; whilst no child has an instinctive tendency to bake, brew or write.

If that’s the case, why are children not born speaking a language? It would have made the lives of the caregivers easier if babies expressed their hunger or pain by speaking, instead of crying.

According to Dr. Maria Montessori, an eminent educator, a child has to become part of the environment she is living in to make the innate capacity of learning any language in children possible. An example of this is seen in how in the first 6 years of life, children can easily learn and be fluent in the language of a foreign land they live in, while the adults in the family might struggle and require a lot of practice with the same.

There is a notion that language learning starts when children join preschool. But that’s not true. The exposure to language starts from the time the ear lobes of the child in the womb are developed.  We see an explosion of words in toddlers possibly only because they are absorbing the rich human language from the environment they are born into. The school continues to develop the oral language of the child. 

This brings to a question that can gadgets be used to help with our infant’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, research has proven that language learning cannot happen passively by making them sit in front of gadgets which talk or read in different languages.  The physical presence of one or more adults is necessary for making meaningful connections between words, word sounds and their meanings.  There is a concept called “CONSTRUCTIVISM” that psychologists have been using for decades. In simple terms, it refers to ways that knowledge is stored in the brain. The knowledge constructed by any learner is based on interpretation of the experiences and connects with whatever knowledge we already possess. This concept may make us question whether the flash card system of teaching toddlers and asking children to write letters randomly without any purpose actually helps them.

Many parents worry about their 2-year-olds who haven’t started talking. Here are a few suggestions to help infants and toddlers with their oral communication and language acquisition:

#1 Rich oral language in the environment of the child is essential: Parents need to be mindful about the role that caregivers or day care centers play in their children’s lives. They should not only be equipped to help the child with their physical needs of hunger and sleep, but also their language development and motor skills. The early years of a child’s life are key to laying the foundation of their future learning and hence a lot of care needs to be given to the same.

#2Multiple languages in the house is a blessing for the child:  Studies show that children are capable of absorbing multiple languages from birth. The only caution being adults should speak the same language without mixing any two languages in any given sentence. For example, the mother speaks to the child only in Tamil, the father in Telugu, the grandmother in Hindi.  

#3 Stories, dialogues, puzzles and songs right from infancy are great resources: The power of physical books and audio songs during infancy and toddler years should not be underestimated. These need to be done purely as fun, bonding activities and for making interesting connections with real life situations that children encounter in their environment. We need to pay attention that the choice of stories read out to the toddlers are realistic and simple. Children between the ages of 0-6 years love repetition and enjoy reading the same stories several times a day. This could continue for months together. It is a normal stage of development and like any other skill, it helps children in mastering the language internally.

 #4 Word Games boost learning: Word games can be introduced from 5+ years in any language in the child’s environment. Such games help children learn through play. Kindergarten children may have different spelling for words due to the phonics method of teaching in school and adults of the family need to be mindful of the same. 

The topic of language acquisition in young children has been close to my heart. I have had many ‘AHA’ moments while practically trying out Dr. Maria Montessori’s teachings with my own child and with many children I work with through story-telling sessions. My first-hand practical experiences have helped me truly understand what infants and toddlers are capable of and that their infinite potential cannot be underestimated.

No wonder children between the age of 0-6 years are called “SPONGES or ABSORBENT MINDS” by Dr. Maria Montessori. 

Author: H. Subha has a formal certification in Story Telling from WSI, Chennai and is with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families. To know more, look us up or write to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This article is based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s book “Absorbent mind” and AMI Training for Primary Montessori Assistants which Subha had the opportunity to read/attend a few years back.