This posting is about vocabulary acquisition from birth to preschool. Although it appears that infants learn to attend to and produce language with ease, acquiring a language in an immense task (MacWhinney, 1998; Thiessen & Saffran, 2003). Infants’ early learning is probably facilitated by maturational constraints on perceptual and cognitive abilities that confine infants’ attention to crucial elements of language that are necessary for its mastery (Newport, 1990). Neonates as young as 2 days old show preference for their native language, indicating that at least some aspects of their mother’s language probably are acquired prenatally (Moon, Cooper, & Fifer, 1993). Infants are able to perceive and discriminate adult speech sounds as early as 1 month of age (Eimas, Siqueland, Jusczyk, & Vigorito, 1971).
By 4–6 months of age, infants can discriminate categorically distinct phonemes in their native language (e.g., /ba/ vs. /da/). Early experience with their native language and developing cognitive and perceptual abilities conspire to diminish infants’ ability to discriminate novel speech sounds that are not found in their native language. By 10–12 months of age, clear evidence of a loss in ability to distinguish nonnative phonemes is apparent (Werker & Tees, 1999).
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Vocabulary Acquisition From Birth To Preschool

Moving from individual sounds to larger phonological units, 6- to 9-month-old infants begin to track the co-occurrence of sounds in syllables (e.g., ba and by) by using what appear to be rudimentary statistical cues (Newport & Aslin, 2000; Thiessen & Saffran, 2003).  Before the end of the first year, infants can discriminate not only sounds and syllables, but familiar and unfamiliar words. Eight-month-old infants can discriminate between words read to them in a story context and unfamiliar words after a 2-week delay (Jusczyk & Hohne, 1997).
Turning to production, infants begin social vocalizing and babbling vowels at 3 months, followed by the babbling of vowel and consonant combinations at 6 months, but it is not until 11 months that an infant’s babbling begins to correspond with phonemes in his or her native language (Bates & Goodman, 1997; MacWhinney, 1998). Even though word-like vocalizations (e.g., da-da) may appear before an infant’s first birthday, these words generally lack a symbolic reference and are therefore not true words. An infant does not truly acquire meaningful words until he or she understands that words are references to objects, events, and actions in the world.
Read my next posting  [VOCABULARY ACQUISITION FROM BIRTH TO PRESCHOOL (2)] in order to get information about vocabulary acquisition from birth to preschool completely!

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