The Divine Gift of Language: Nurturing Your Child’s Linguistic Journey

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Language, a divine gift bestowed upon humanity, is a captivating voyage that begins before we even take our first steps in this world. The remarkable journey of language development in infants has captivated the minds of linguists and researchers for generations. In this blog post, we embark on a profound exploration of the stages of language development in infants, delving into the depths of this miraculous process. Furthermore, we offer valuable guidance for homeschooling parents to nurture their children’s linguistic growth, all through the lens of an Islamic perspective that acknowledges the divine blessing of speech as mentioned by Allah in the Quran.

Islamic perspective

One of the greatest blessings and signs of Allah is the ability for humans to speak, Allah refers to this reality numerous time in the Quran:

{ وَمِنۡ ءَایَـٰتِهِۦ خَلۡقُ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَ ٰ⁠تِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَٱخۡتِلَـٰفُ أَلۡسِنَتِكُمۡ وَأَلۡوَ ٰ⁠نِكُمۡۚ }

[Surah Ar-Rūm: 22]

“And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours.”

{ عَلَّمَهُ ٱلۡبَیَانَ }

[Surah Ar-Raḥmān: 4]

“˹and˺ taught them speech.”

Imam As-Saadi comments on the previous verse in his tafsir: “The Creator perfected the creation of man and made him distinct from all other living beings by teaching him (speech), which is the ability to express what is on his mind. This includes both verbal speech and writing. Speech, by means of which Allah made humans distinct from other creatures, is one of the greatest blessings that He has bestowed upon humanity.”

This verse illuminates a concept that contemporary linguists, including figures like Noam Chomsky, have come to acknowledge. Specifically, Chomsky’s theory of the “language faculty” proposes that infants possess an inherent capacity to acquire language, akin to the way they instinctively learn to walk1. The striking uniformity in the progression of linguistic milestones across a wide array of cultures and languages proves that children are in fact inherently predisposed for language acquisition, which Allah already informed us of in the Quran hundreds of years ago.

The Innate Language Journey

One of the most astonishing findings in the study of language development is that children from diverse cultures and linguistic backgrounds share common linguistic milestones and stages, reaching them at similar ages. These stages are crucial to a child’s linguistic growth:2

1. Babbling (Age: 6 to 12 months)

Around the age of 6 to 12 months, infants start to engage in babbling. During this stage, they produce repetitive syllables and sounds, often exploring the sounds of their native language. Babbling is a fundamental precursor to language development.

2. Holophrastic Stage (Age: 12 to 18 months)

Following babbling, the holophrastic stage typically occurs between 12 to 18 months. Children begin to utter their first words, often centred around naming people and objects in their immediate environment, such as “mama,” “papa,” or “cat.” It’s important to note two phenomena during this stage:

  • Overextension: Children may use a word to refer to objects that share common features. For example, any four-legged animal will be referred to as a “cat”, since your child is used to the pet cat at home.
  • Underextension: Children may use a word with a narrower meaning than in the adult language. For example, your child might only call his rattle toy a “rattle” while any other rattle he will call simply a “toy”, refusing to use the term “rattle” for it.

3. Two-Word Stage (Age: 18 to 24 months)

At around 18 to 24 months of age, children, having acquired around 50 words, often start to combine two words into the same intonational phrase unit, known as the “two-word stage.” For example, the child will say “get milk” when asking for milk.

4. Telegraphic Stage (Age: 2 to 3 years)

As children progress and start linking more than two words, they enter the “telegraphic stage.” During this stage, language tends to omit function words like articles, conjunctions, and prepositions, focusing primarily on content words such as nouns and verbs. For example, she will say: ” the cat stand up on the table”.

5. Grammatical Development Stage (Age: 3 to 5 years)

Between the ages of 3 to 5 years, children continue to refine their language skills. They begin to grasp and use more complex grammatical structures, including verb tenses, plurals, and more sophisticated sentence constructions.

6. Complex Syntactic Constructions (Age: 5 to 6 years)

By the age of 5 to 6, most children have mastered complex syntactic constructions and have a well-established phonological repertoire in their language.

As infants embark on their journey of language acquisition, they navigate these stages with innate abilities that allow them to grasp the intricacies of communication and unlock the door to a world of words and expression.

Supporting Language Development in Homeschooling

Homeschooling offers a unique opportunity for parents to actively engage in their children’s development, including language acquisition. Understanding the stages of language development in infants can be a valuable resource for homeschooling parents.

Here are three general guidelines:

  1. Listen to Your Child: When babies are learning to talk, it’s essential to make them feel heard and understood. When you hear your young child attempting to speak, take the time to listen attentively. Responding to their attempts at communication reinforces the idea that their words have meaning and value. This not only encourages them but also strengthens your bond with your child.
  2. Running Commentary: Babies and young children are like sponges when it comes to language acquisition. They learn by absorbing the language they hear in their environment. Therefore, it’s crucial to provide a rich linguistic environment by talking to them as much as possible. Describe what you’re doing, what they’re seeing, and what’s happening around them. This running commentary helps them connect words to their surroundings and experiences.
  3. Expand on What They Say: When your child attempts to communicate, whether through single words or short phrases, try to expand on their expressions. For example, if they say “car,” you can respond with “the big blue car” or “the car is driving.” This not only reinforces the word they used but also introduces new vocabulary and sentence structures. However, it’s essential not to pressure or force your child to repeat these longer phrases. The goal is to model correct language usage naturally, allowing them to absorb it at their own pace without frustration.

By incorporating these tips into your homeschooling approach, you can create a supportive language-learning environment that encourages your child’s linguistic development. Remember that patience, active listening, and gentle guidance are key components of helping your child on their language journey.

Here is some more advice on how to help your child development in each of the phases previously mentioned:

1. Encourage Babbling and Early Communication (Age: 6 to 12 months):

  • Create a nurturing environment for sound experimentation and babbling.
  • Respond attentively to your child’s vocalizations to foster a sense of connection and communication.

2. Embrace the Holophrastic Stage (Age: 12 to 18 months):

  • Celebrate your child’s early words and encourage them.
  • Use everyday experiences as opportunities for language development by labeling objects and actions.
  • Be aware of overextension and underextension and gently guide them to expand their vocabulary.

3. Support the Two-Word Stage (Age: 18 to 24 months):

  • Engage in conversations with your child, expanding on their two-word phrases.
  • Encourage your child to express themselves, even if their language is still limited.

4. Nurture the Telegraphic Stage (Age: 2 to 3 years):

  • Understand that omitting function words is a natural part of language development at this stage.
  • Model correct grammar and vocabulary without overwhelming your child.

5. Facilitate Grammatical Development (Age: 3 to 5 years):

  • Engage in activities involving storytelling and structured language use.
  • Introduce age-appropriate books and reading materials to expand vocabulary and understanding.

6. Foster Complex Syntactic Constructions (Age: 5 to 6 years):

  • Encourage your child to express complex ideas and engage in conversations that require more advanced language skills.
  • Explore creative writing exercises and opportunities for storytelling.

By aligning your homeschooling approach with these language development stages, you can provide a rich linguistic environment that promotes healthy language growth. Remember that each child is unique and will progress at their own pace, so be patient and responsive to their individual needs.

Conclusion

In closing, we reflect upon the awe-inspiring journey of language acquisition in infants, a journey that begins with the blessings and signs of Allah, the Most Merciful. As we comprehend the intricate stages of language development, we also acknowledge that this journey is not just a scientific marvel but a divine gift. It’s a journey that parents, particularly those engaged in homeschooling, can actively participate in, nurturing their children’s linguistic skills with love and patience.

In this exploration of language, we’ve offered practical advice for parents at every stage, recognizing the uniqueness of each child’s path to language mastery. Through attentive listening, rich linguistic environments, and gentle guidance, parents can empower their children to unlock the power of expression.

May this understanding of language development, from the divine perspective to practical application, serve as a guiding light for parents on this remarkable journey of nurturing their children’s linguistic growth.

  1. Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2021). How languages are learned. Oxford University Press.
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  2. Hummel, K. M. (2021). Introducing second language acquisition: Perspectives and practices. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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