Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Language Development Part 1

Once upon a time, before I was a homeschooling mama, and even before I had any babies, I was pursuing a different path. Like many of you, I went to college; I earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Communication Disorders and Sciences, which was my training to become a Speech-Language Pathologist. I did not spend very much time working in that field, although I did work briefly in an early intervention program and also in a post-acute rehabilitation facility. I had always planned to return to work in my chosen field, but my plans gradually changed, and I still remain a committed homemaker. After I gave birth to my first child, I could hardly stand the thought of leaving her. However, I had just graduated with my master's degree, and I felt conflicted. A part of me thought that I would regret it if I didn't go to work. Also, my husband was encouraging me to get a job at that time. Part-time work seemed like a good compromise, so I did work a limited schedule during my oldest daughter's first couple of years until eventually, my husband and I decided that I could stay home with her full time. My plan then became to return to work when she started kindergarten, but by that time, I had two more babies and I didn't want to leave them, either. The Lord had already begun to put the desire to homeschool in my heart during my oldest child's toddler years, and my husband eventually became enthusiastic about that idea as well. I have loved the privilege of being home with my children, and I can honestly say that I haven't looked back with any regrets.
Over the years, friends who know my background have occasionally approached me with concerns about their children's speech and language development. I still have an interest in the field, and I am always happy to discuss those issues. Consequently, I have decided to write a couple of blog posts about language development, and later, I hope to do some writing about speech as well. I would like to preface these posts with the disclosure that I am not currently a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist or even someone with extensive experience in the field. Rather, I am:
  1. A mom.
  2. A person who was trained to be a Speech-Language Pathologist, and as such, acquired some knowledge about language development.
  3. Someone who worked briefly as a Speech-Language Patholgist, but made the decision to give up that career years ago in order to be a stay-at-home mom.
These posts are not intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive, but rather to encourage parents to think about how your children are developing, to seek help if you have concerns, and to think about the ways you can enhance your child's language development at home, especially during the preschool years. My desire is to provide homeschoolers with information that could be helpful to you. Before proceeding further, I would like to emphasize the benefits of seeking an evaluation from a Speech-Language Pathologist if you have concerns about your child's speech or language development. If you think that something may not be quite right, trust your instincts and have your child checked out. It would never hurt to do so, and it might honestly prove to be very helpful. I am aware of a couple of books on the market for parents wanting to help their child at home rather than seeking therapy, and I hope to review and write about them at a later date. At this time, I don't have enough knowledge about those books to be able to speak about whether or not they are useful. As a homeschool mom, I unequivocally believe that parents are the best experts regarding their own children. On the other hand, I also know that various studies have shown that early professional intervention for language delays generally leads to more positive outcomes. That is why I will encourage you to trust your instincts regarding whether or not to seek intervention, and to pursue an evaluation early on when those instincts are telling you that such help may be needed. In this post, I would like to define some terms that may be helpful if you are seeking professional help for a possible language delay. These terms describe the various ways that language is understood and explained by professionals. In my next blog post (Language Development Part 2), I will discuss developmental milestones, warning signs of a possible language delay,  and ways that you can stimulate your child's language at home in your everday interactions and activities.
One simple definition of language from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is "the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other". I would add that language is the primary way that God designed humans to communicate, and it is a system that is both beautiful and complex. When we are young, language allows us to inform our caregivers of our needs and wants. As we grow up, it enables us to develop relationships with others and is a means that God provided to help connect our hearts with those we love.  When speech and language professionals talk about language, they broadly categorize it into two distinct types: Expressive language and receptive language. Expressive language refers to language that is produced by a person in order to communicate meaning, and receptive language refers to the comprehension or understanding of meaning derived from the communication of others. Language development and disorders are generally discussed in terms of these two major categories.
This next part is a bit technical, so I invite you to skip reading this paragraph entirely if you want to. Many people would find this information impractical, but if you want to familiarize yourself with some speech therapy lingo in order to prepare for the possibility of reading these words in a report or seeing them on test results (or if you happen to have an interest in linguistics), please read on! Linguists recognize five components of language: Semantics, morphology, syntax, pragmatics, and phonology.  Both receptive language and expressive language are included in each of these areas (understanding versus production). Semantics involves the meaning of words and word combinations in a language. Examples of semantics include vocabulary and figurative language. Morphology involves word formation and the internal structure of words. An example of morphology is the use of inflectional word endings (word endings that change the meaning of a word). Syntax involves the grammatical arrangement of words in sentences. An example of syntax would be the ability to use sentence structures that vary in type and complexity. Pragmatics involves the social use of language. Examples of pragmatics include the social rules and norms that govern conversations, such as turn-taking and staying on topic. Phonology involves the sound system that comprises our language (phonology will be discussed further in a later post about speech disorders). That is a lot of information to pack into one little paragraph, and much more could be said about each of these five areas. If you would like to learn more about any of these, please visit The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association at www.asha.org.
I must sign off for now, but please look for Part 2 very soon, which will discuss some developmental milestones, warning signs that there could be a language delay, and ways to stimulate your child's language at home. I'm looking forward to it!

To read Language Development Part 2, click here.

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/104419843@N02/16823070012">Pride - Day 321</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>