What is children’s home language learning environment?

Human beings have the most unique and complicated language system. We use language to understand others and to express needs, thoughts and feelings. Language plays a crucial role in our whole life. How and what helps children acquire a language has always been an interest to researchers.

Before children go to school, home provides the initial and most important opportunities to learn and practice their language through all kinds of activities. Neonates hear sounds and voices in their mothers’ wombs; infants start to learn a language(s) after birth. Children’s day-to-day family routines could influence their language development (Melhuish et al., 2008). Researchers have paid attention to children’s home language environment for a long time, however, their focus was initially only on parental child directed speech, mostly mothers’ (Hart & Risley, 1992). But a child’s ambient language environment is more than the parents’ speech input, other family members (like siblings, and grandparents) or people from the community all contribute to the child’s rich language environment (Sperry et al., 2019). Parent-child interactions and reading with/to the child could help improve their communication skills and language abilities (Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002). Nevertheless, the home language environment is much broader. Simple family daily routines could provide a stimulating and language-enriched environment. For example, children could learn and use a language from doing simple housework with adults, or running errands, like going to the supermarket, post office, etc. In addition, children are living in a digital era, something that has been brought to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the use of electronic devices has become a significant part of children’s life. Instead of thinking screens only have negative effects on children’s development, if using them properly, they could be an educational tool for children to learn a language (Madigan et al., 2020; Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health).

We are living in a culturally diverse age, in 2020, nearly one-third of infants were born to non-British mothers in England and Wales (ONS). Children from families using more than one language at home may have different home language environments.

Our team at the LuCiD centre is hoping to find out more about what natural home language environments look like in families speaking only one language (English only) as well as families using more than one language at home. This knowledge will help us understand better how children speaking one or more languages develop in the UK; and what activities could be easily adopted in routine activities at home that have a positive influence on children’s language acquisition.


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