This paper will review theories of language acquisition and their relationship to the academic outcomes of 16 students enrolled in a childcare course. First, popular theories of language acquisition will be presented. Secondly, the process of langue development in a child will be outlined, whilst emphasizing developmental stages that vocab, syntax, and pragmatics occur. Finally, an indication of learning developments at secondary school and at higher education will be discussed, particularly in regard to students undertaking a childcare course. I would like to remind the reader of Clibbens warning of not to be caught up in the various debates which can deviate from the true purpose of helping all children, young people and adults to use language and communicate.
It is generally accepted that language acquisition is partly innate and partly environmental (Bickerton, 1990). It is generally conceded that for all people, language development is a gradual process that occurs through general development and interaction with people and the environment.
Skinner's (1957) behavioral approach to language acquisition was simply a set of habits. He did not consider language to be different to any other behavior. The learner of a language is a tabular rosa - an empty slate. He ignored nativist approaches of innate knowledge, as the inner workings of language were unobservable and so un-measurable. Skinner insisted that interaction with the environment leads to stimulus-response conditioning and that the product of this is knowledge. For example, an unconditional environment brings about an unconditional response, the response is followed by an event that is to the liking of the learning organism, and the response becomes positively reinforced. If this sequence of events occurs a number of times, the organism learns to associate the response to the stimulus to the reinforcement. So that when encountering the stimulus again, the same response will be elicited, and so becomes a conditioned response. Behaviorism considers that all learning, including language, occurs through this process of establishing habits. Hence, a linguistic input is due to linguistic utterances in one's environment as stimulus. However, it has been noted in research since that imitation alone does not allow for language acquisition, and simplistic stimulus-response conditionings do not account for it either (Kiyamazarslan, 2001).
Piaget (1952) was a biologist and a psychologist and yet he felt that language acquisition was due to social interaction (cited in Kiymazarslan, 2001). He saw a child's language ability as being reflected in their ability to manipulate symbols, and that a child learns when they are developmentally ready to.