What are the most important sources of language for a child?

Even very early in life, a child may hear or see language from many different people. They may go to nursery school or kindergarten and interact with educators or fellow peers. They may spend time with grandparents. They may have older siblings who play with them.

A lot of the time, the focus on fostering a child’s language development can seem directed solely at primary caregivers, and more often than not, at mothers. However, worldwide the sources of language a child hears can vary widely, and all these sources can set the foundations for language learning. In the USA alone, almost 6 million grandparents are active caregivers. In other communities, it may be other family members, male or female, or older children. Primary caregiving can even be split up across a community or family and not just the responsibility of just one or two people. Aside from the sheer diversity of primary caregivers, children also spend more time than we think away from primary caregivers. From families in Europe and America, to Australian-Indigenous communities, children’s entire days can be spent playing with and learning from other children, for example.

All the different interactions a child has can be wonderful opportunities to learn language! Join us next time, when we take a more in-depth look at how all the people around a child can be invaluable for language learning.

The scientific sources of our comic:

Fouts, H. N., Roopnarine, J. L., Lamb, M. E., & Evans, M. (2012). Infant Social Interactions With Multiple Caregivers: The Importance of Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 43(2), 328–348. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022022110388564

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). Most people are not WEIRD. Nature, 466(7302), 29–29. https://doi.org/10.1038/466029a

Simmons, T., & Dye, J. L. (2003). Grandparents Living with Grandchildren: 2000. Census 2000 Brief. Retrieved December 2, 2020 from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED482412