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The Sensitive Period for the Acquisition of Language

on April 8, 2008

The sensitive periods represent critical points of a child’s development. The sensitive period for language occurs from birth to about age six. It is at this time that the child learns the primary language spoken in the home. He also has the ability to learn and fluently speak other languages.

Children are fascinated by sounds around them. In fact, the infant intently watches the human face, focusing on the mouth of the person speaking. As Montessori indicated, the infant needs to be in close proximity to people to study their interactions and conversations. Placing a child off in a distant room where he only hears bits and pieces of a conversation is a great disservice, as the child fails to hear complete sentences or thoughts.

The infant is delighted with the rhythm of the human voice and is fascinated with the sounds of the spoken word. Because the child is in the sensitive period of the absorbent mind, we need to focus our attention on taking full advantage of this developmental period in the child’s life. I highly recommend that you borrow Maria Montessori’s The Absorbent Mind from your library to learn more about how you can help your infant benefit from this crucial sensitive period.

Take time to read aloud to your child. Sing songs, recite poetry and read stories. Although the child hears other noises and sounds, the child selectively only reproduces the human voice. During this sensitive period for learning language single sounds become fixed in the child’s subconscious. When learning English, he first absorbs consonants, and then syllables. Next, words are fixed; however, the child can’t readily comprehend the meaning of the words he is hearing. The ‘inner teacher’ within the child helps him to later grasp the meaning and grammar of the English language. We must remember that language acquisition has a natural timetable which can’t be accelerated by an adult’s prodding or interference.

Montessori was quick to illustrate that if an adult goes to a foreign country and attempts to learn a foreign language, he will find it most difficult. This is because the adult no longer possesses the sensitive period of language. So, what are some of the things you can do to help your child fully benefit from the sensitive period of language? Read Montessori’s
The Absorbent Mind and The Secret of Childhood books. These books will provide you with a solid foundation of what you need to know.

Montessori at Home: A Complete Guide to Teaching Your Preschooler at Home Using the Montessori Method and Modern Montessori at Home: A Creative Teaching Guide for Parents of Children Six through Nine Years of Age will also be helpful as these books provide complete language lesson planning information and provide instruction on how to set up the prepared environment.

Visit the Fall/Winter 1998 Newsletter to receive some free material for presenting lessons in French. Many of these lessons and templates can be used to present lessons in English, Spanish, Italian, and German as well.


One response to “The Sensitive Period for the Acquisition of Language

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