Language Learning and Later-Borns

Language Learning and Later-Borns

One of the more consistent (and unfortunate) findings in the field of developmental psychology is that only children and first-born children typically develop better language skills than later-born children.  There are two major reasons why this occurs.  First, the only child or first-born child is listening exclusively to the parents who serve as excellent language models.  Meanwhile, the later-born spends a lot of time listening to older siblings who are not yet speaking clearly and correctly.  For instance, some of you may have a nickname that is the result of your older sibling’s inability to pronounce your name correctly when you were born.

In addition, the mother and father have more time and attention to devote to the only child or first-born child, and they are routinely providing expansions (elaborating on the child’s two or three-word phrases to create full sentences) and recasts (restructuring the child’s grammatically incorrect statements into proper form).  The older siblings, as long as they can understand the later-born, are not inclined to engage in such guidance.  This often results in the comical situation where the parent is speaking to the younger child and the older child has to serve as translator.

Of course, while this is typical, it is not inevitable.  However, it does take a conscious and
concerted effort on the part of the parents to provide their younger offspring with the same kind of advantages they routinely make available to their primary progeny without really having to think much about it.  This may not be easy, but the payoff in terms of equal proficiency in language skills will be greatly appreciated by the later-borns.

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