importance of Phonetics

Phonics for Kids: Importance of Phonetics in Language Development

In our earlier article, we explained in a concise manner what Phonetics mean. In this blog, we will try and understand the importance of Phonetics in language development in children specifically in the age group of 18 Months to about 5 years.

At about 17 Months, most children can distinguish words that sound very similar. For example, they can clearly distinguish between phonetically similar words like ‘bada’ and ‘vada’[1]. Interestingly, it has been found that bilingual children needed 3 months more to differentiate between similar sounding words[2]. Bilingual children reach this stage at about 20 months of age probably due to an increased cognitive overload of two different languages and their vocabularies. However, Parents of bilingual or multilingual children should not be worried by this. By the time multilingual children reach the age of 3, they have numerous lifelong advantages over monolingual children. Around the age of 20 Months, children also develop a keen sense that helps them identify mispronunciations clearly[3].

Fast Mapping helps Children learn New Languages quickly

A fascinating finding in this age group of children is that they have a remarkable ability to learn new words with a single exposure even if the direct meaning of the word is not explained to them.
For example, let us say the child is shown three objects. Two of them are familiar objects, say a doll and ball. The third object is something the child has never seen or heard of, say a magnet. If you place all the three objects in front of the child and ask the child to give you the magnet, the child understands by a process of elimination that the unfamiliar sound (magnet) must refer to the unfamiliar object (magnet).

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This incredible ability to absorb and remember new sounds and rapidly develop associations with objects is what helps children learn languages so quickly. This kind of ability is called as fast-mapping by child development scientists[4]. This fast-mapping ability is unique to children at this age. This ability continues to be very fertile during the ages of 2-5 years[5] and may steadily decline from then on. There is some debate in the scientific community on the upper boundary age of this fertile period and the rate of decline in this ability.

Right age to Introduce Music, Rhymes and Singing For a Child:

It is important for parents to understand that from 2 Years on, the child begins to get interested in things like rhyming words, alliterations and word play[6]. This is called Phonological Awareness. Their ability to differentiate between vowels (aa, ee, uu, etc.) from consonants (pa, ta, ka, etc.) gradually increases from the age of 2 and continues to develop till much later in life. It is no wonder that this is the right age for parents to increase the exposure of children to various activities such as singing bhajans, slokas, poetry, music, rhymes, storytelling etc. Because the child has now the ability to appreciate rhyming words and wordplay as well as the ability to learn new words very quickly, he/she enjoys these sessions immensely and will also benefit from them.

It should be noted that importance of Phonetics or sound related aspects is only one part of the language development of the child. Language development is much wider including numerous other aspects including grammar, vocabulary etc. One more important thing to note is that most of the research conducted is in the context of western developed countries which are largely monolingual. One needs to understand the development & importance of Phonetics in the Indian context in much more detail. We will examine this topic in greater detail in our subsequent articles.

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  • Around the age of 20 months, children can learn new words with a single exposure even if they are unknown with the direct meaning of the word.
  • From 2-5 years, children can absorb and remember new sounds and rapidly develop associations with objects. This helps them learn new languages quickly.
  • From 2 years on, the child starts understanding rhyming words and wordplay, so parents should increase their exposure to various activities such as poetry, music, rhymes, storytelling etc. This will be fun and fruitful for a child.
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