The effects of environmental language.... The effects of environmental language

The effects of environmental language and the development of the visual and auditory systems in language acquisition.

The acquisition of language during the early years of life is thought to be due to a child’s exposure to language and the ability to analyse the sounds and structure of what it is hearing. There are many factors that can impact upon this, however I would like to briefly address three factors that could impact upon language acquisition, whether this is the first or additional language. The factors I would like to address are the environmental language the child is exposed to along with visual and auditory deficits.

An infant is able to produce many speech sounds, Kandel, Schwartz and Jessell (p.1171) propose that an infant initially even produces sounds that may not be common of it’s parents language. However, as it is exposed to more language, it is able to analyse the auditory information it is exposed to, in preparation to saying it’s first word. From this stage the infant learns connections between sounds and objects, for example the words mum, dad, dog etc and then begins to associate words to meanings. Around the age of three the child is starting to use grammatical rules correctly and is able to compose a sentence using grammatical rules. The ability of the child to use these rules at such a young age, reinforces the thought that a child is not just repeating what it has heard, but is analysing what and how it heard it.

The above skills are very much dependant on the child’s ability to hear sounds and to see objects. When the ability to hear and/or see is impaired, this can greatly impact on language acquisition and when teaching a class this must be an area that the teacher is aware of.

The neural development of the visual system is vital to the overall ability to perceive visual input. The neural framework between the incoming visual information and the cortical areas of visual perception are still being developed post-natally, therefore if an infant’s sight is deprived for a period of time, it will result in permanent deficits to visual perception. The maturation on the neural connections that control visual perception is called the ‘critical period’. Therefore, if an adult spends a brief period of time with their vision deprived, their visual perception is not permanently damaged because they have previously developed the appropriate neural structures. Once the vision is restored, eg cataract surgery, then their visual perception will return to what it previously was. Of course if the peripheral problem is unable to be completely corrected, then they may have some residual visual perception issues. Kandel et al, (p.1117) propose that, if an infant’s vision is deprived, even for a few weeks during their first few months of life, this can result in a permanent structural deficit. This may be an important thing to consider while teaching in areas affected by poverty. Some example may be a child affected with a cataract, eye infections or even living in conditions where they have been deprived of visual stimulus during their infant years.

An intact auditory system is required for optimal language acquisition and development of speech. ‘Deafness primarily stems from the loss of cochlear hair cells’ Kandel et al (p.610), unlike many cells in the human body, if hair cells are destroyed, then they can not replaced. This hair cell death could be caused by many different factors, some common example are: genetic factors, exposure to loud noises and infections.

Therefore, when teaching students it is essential to consider these factors in regards to their primary and additional language acquisition. Teachers need to be aware of any particular needs of students, which can be identified through pre-course information, 1:1 discussion and observations within the class setting. Careful thought needs to be put into providing appropriate visual and auditory information along with language exposure to enhance language acquisition.


Eric R. Kandel, James H. Schwartz, Thomas M. Jessell. Principles of neural science, fourth edition, 2000. Published by McGraw-Hill.

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