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Learning language early is important

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 7: Choosing and learning a language > Learning language early is important

The best years for learning language are from birth to age 7. Usually a child learns most language between 2 and 4 years old. If a child does not learn language by the time he is about 7 or 8 years old, it will be more difficult for the child to learn it later. If a deaf child does not learn a spoken or a signed language, it will also be difficult for him to fully develop thinking skills. That is why learning language is so important.

How children learn language

Languages use symbols such as sounds, writing, or signs that allow people to communicate with each other. Reading, writing, speaking, and signing are all ways of using language.

The first step a child takes to learn language will be to learn the names for people and the words for things he sees every day — words like 'mama', 'cat', or 'baby'. But often, the first words he will say are to make something happen — words like 'milk', 'no', or 'up'.

An older boy speaking as he picks up a smaller boy.
Up, up, up, Adom!
A small boy raises his arms while speaking.
A child learns that words
have power to make things
happen. It is very rewarding
for a child to communicate
and get what he wants.

A man and a small girl speaking to each other.
Grandma go-ed to the market?
Yes, Grandma went to the market.
Children learn language by practicing it with others.

Children first learn single words. Then they learn the rules for using words together. As they use language with other people, over time they learn the rules of language.

Children learn language by listening and seeing the language around them and practicing what they hear and see. Children develop their mental abilities when they learn more words and use them according to the language's rules. They make mistakes, and then begin to communicate successfully.

Language and thinking develop together

Language allows us to communicate with others. It also allows us to communicate with ourselves. The language a child learns when he is young gives him the tools to develop his thinking — the language he uses to talk to himself. So even how we think depends on how much language we know and can use.

A woman signing.
Daniel is deaf. He can communicate a little through gestures, expressions on his face, and through signs his family made up. This is what Daniel can tell his mother about his day:
A woman signing.
But if Daniel and his family shared a language, they could communicate much more. And Daniel's ability to think and plan would be stronger.

The more children are able to learn a language — whether they speak or sign — the more they can understand their world, express themselves, think, hope, plan, and communicate with the people around them.

Children develop their thinking when:

A girl speaking to her little sister as they wash clothes in a large bowl.
The work will go quickly if we do it together.
Mayra develops her thinking skills by hearing people use language to express thoughts and ideas.
  • they see or hear people using words or signs to exchange information.
  • they use language to describe what they see, hear, and touch.
  • they use language to express what they experience.
  • they use language to make connections between things.
A girl speaking to a boy as they stand beside a cow.
We got milk from that cow today!

Basic thinking skills and language

As they learn language, children organize their thoughts and make connections between different ideas:

  • how an object, person, or
    event causes something
    else to happen.
  • how to solve problems.
A boy thinking as he collects wood.
If I find wood for the fire, then Mama can cook dinner.
A girl thinking as she reaches under a cabinet.
I can reach the ball if I use a stick.
  • how to order things
    one after the another.
  • how to count.
A girl thinking as she cracks an egg into a bowl.
First I add the egg. Then I mix in flour to make the dough sticky.
A boy thinking as he takes plates from a shelf.
Papa is
tonight, so we need only 4 plates.
  • how to identify categories of objects — to learn that one word can mean different things, and several
    words can mean the same thing.
  • how to describe what a person is feeling and why she is feeling that way.
A boy thinking as he sorts fruits with his mother.
This is a pineapple, that is a mango. Both are kinds of fruit.
A girl thinking as she sees her mother sitting with her hands on her face.
Mama is worried because Magda is so sick.

It is important that learning language becomes a part of the life of a child who is deaf or cannot hear well. Parents, community workers, and teachers must encourage children to learn and to use a language to express themselves, to communicate with others, and to develop their mental abilities.