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Language development: A complex, systematic, and natural process

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Although we do not understand very well what the processes are that contribute to language development, it is clear that communication plays a central role. As children strive to become increasingly skilled at communicating their ideas (White, 1959), as they have increasingly complex ideas to communicate (Piaget, 1955), and as they encounter an increasingly diverse set of people with whom to communicate (Brown, 1973), they must learn to use language which is richer and more flexible.

When children come to school or to a day care center they already know a great deal about language. They have readily and actively mastered words, sentences and forms of communication which they need in their own family and community. In their new environment—the school or center—children's language development can further be fostered by adults who are receptive to children's efforts at communication. Adults who encourage children to use language in new ways, who attend to what children mean to say and who recognize that children's errors are often not mistakes, are likely to play a positive role in children's language development.

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Additional information

Janet H. Kane and Karen Sheingold are on the Staff at Bank Street College of Education.

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Kane, J.H., Sheingold, K. Language development: A complex, systematic, and natural process. Early Childhood Educ J 8, 39–54 (1980).

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