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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

School Years

By the school years, typically developing children have mastered the basic grammar of their language and are generally able to make themselves understood as well as understand others. Nevertheless, important developments continue through middle childhood. These include improving phonological skills in coordinating speech production, pronouncing multisyllabic words, and understanding speech in noisy contexts (Dodd et al., 2003; Hoff, 2001). Vocabulary growth continues at an impressive pace (Biemiller & Slonim, 2001), and children become increasingly competent at using and understanding complex grammatical constructions (Hoff, 2001). There are marked improvements in the ability to construct and understand narratives (Hoff, 2001; Low & Durkin, 2000). As well as improving their use and understanding of language during school years, children also get better at reflecting on language. In other words, they develop metalinguistic awareness – the ability to think and talk about language and its properties (Bialystock, 1993). Ask a preschooler which is the bigger word – ‘horse’ or ‘caterpillar’ – and she is likely to answer ‘horse’. Young children find it difficult to conceive of the word as an object in its own right. But school age children become increasingly competent in such tasks. During middle childhood, they learn to distinguish words according to whether they obey the phonological rules of their language (‘kerpod’ versus ‘kzkdff ’) (Edwards & Kirkpatrick, 1999). The emergence of metalinguistic awareness is important because it facilitates many other cognitive and educational processes. For example, once a child knows what words are and is able to conceive of manipulations upon them (‘What does “cow” sound like if we take away the “c”?’), he is better equipped to handle the demands of learning to read and write (Tunmer & Chapman, 2002; Wood & Terrill, 1998).

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