Child Language Acquisition: response structure and sample features

Paper 3 of your A-level English Language exam is going to test your ability to analyse the language features which show how language develops in childhood, often with a caregiver somewhere around for the contrast. You will need to spot those interesting details, label them correctly, and explain what exactly is going on there all in connection with the right theories.

It sounds good and relatively straightforward in theory but once you look at an actual past paper for the first time, especially if the clock is ticking and the paper is graded, it might be hard to decide what to focus on or how to arrange your response in that mysterious ‘effective’ structure, whatever that might mean.

General structure

In simple terms you can choose one of three common ways:

Go with the chronological order describing interesting features as they appear in the text.
It’s a really bad idea because a) features will start repeating themselves and your writing is likely to get repetitive, and confusing b) you are really risking it as you most likely will run out of time and rush through the final part of the script where there might be some really and important things to talk about.

Go person by person.
Let’s say you have two kids and their parent in the script. You write about everything that comes to your mind regarding Kid 1, move on to Kid 2 and then analyse the caretaker’s speech. It should be much more organised since the age is going to be different and you can nicely connect it with the person and, probably, all those theories. The issue is going to be the same: repetitive and because of that blurred structure plus time management issues for the person you decided to write about last.

Go by systems/features and connect all those people’s language
Definitely the preferred way since you can decide where to start and in what order based on priorities and how striking that feature appears. Also, you were provided with dialogues or polilogues for a reason: you need to see the interaction patterns, how people express themselves and how their language development stage is showing itself in this particular context. All those theories will come in handy along the way in a much more natural way as well, you will see.

What to write about?

Here is a very limited list of features for your inspiration:

  • deictical reference
  • non-standard construction
  • turn-taking
  • fulfilment of adjacency pairing
  • negation
  • contraction
  • conditional construction
  • continuous form of tense
  • questioning technique
  • emphasis
  • phonological competence
  • paralanguage
  • prosody
  • use of onomatopoeia
  • diminutive
  • imperatives
  • recasting
  • add more from the coursebook or your observations

Do not introduce theories and theorists before points were made and without any supporting evidence from the text

the piece of advice you needed to hear