A PERIOD OF SENSITIVITY TO LANGUAGE
The child’s ability to use language is of major importance. Language and activity plays a vital role in intellectual development. The sensitive period for language begins from the moment of birth and continues, until above the age of six years. By this stage with almost no direct teaching he has learnt basic sentence patterns and has achieved considerable knowledge in the following areas:
1. 0 months – Baby is attracted to human voice.
2. 3 months – Baby coos and babbles.
3. 6 months – Repeats syllables.
4. 9 months – Words have meaning.
5. 12 months – First intentional word.
6. 15 months – Every object has a name.
7. 18 months – “Baby Talk” words.
8. 21-24 months – Phrases and syntax.
9. After 24 months – Learns how to distinguish between the different
forms that words can take.
10. Learns how to interpret meanings of words and sentences.
11. 2-2½ years – Learns how to participate in conversations.
This does not mean that a child of five years has full language competence. He continues to acquire more complex sentence structures during the primary school years provided the basic language has been achieved during the sensitive period.
If for any reason, a child is not exposed to language during the sensitive period, he will be irrecoverably damaged. Depending on the degree of deprivation he will suffer limitations in his intellectual growth that can never be totally compensated. There are many tragic examples of children who during the sensitive period have been isolated from society. For example, the “Wild boy of Aveyron” (Jean Itard 1801) who was found at the age of approximately 11 years living in a forest in France. Although he became relatively socialized and human, he never acquired the ability to speak.