Gables Montessori Blog

CHILDREN AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE LANGUAGE

Language is the ability to acquire and use complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so, and a language is any specific example of such a system. How a human being acquires such ability is a mistery. Throughout history, researchers have analyzed this process and have tried to clarify it. Maria Montessori was one of them. She observed that the child from birth until six years of age acquires the language without ever being taught, because of the innate characteristic or power of absorbing everything from the environment. This was the base for her educational theory on the book The Absorbent Mind. From three to six years of age the child takes specifics inputs from the environment and builds up his mental and physical faculties. It seems that the construction of language is almost an intuitive process. Thus the child easily learns how to speak, and after to read and to write, following the patterns that environment shows to him. Montessori calls this process as the Sensitive Period. As the children’s early experiences with language grow, also do his social, emotional, and intellectual development.

Montessori also points out that there is an internal drive for order, that is, the capacity of the child to put nouns, verbs, prepositional phrases and others in the right order, so he can easily be understood. The child learns that there is a precise order to spoken communication. The educator wrote about it: “the human voice is a music and words are its notes, meaning nothing in themselves but to which every group attributes its own special meaning. Like music, there is a natural progression of speech”.

In her book, The Method, Maria Montessori explains that “the development of articulate language takes place in the period between the age of two and the age of seven: the age of perceptions in which the attention of the child is spontaneously turned towards external objects, and the memory is particularly tenacious”. She talks about the muscular mechanisms involve in the process of articulating words and says: “it is the age also of motility in which all the psycho-motor channels are becoming permeable and the muscular mechanisms establish themselves. In this period of life by the mysterious bond between the auditory channel and the motor channel of the spoken language it would seem that the auditory perceptions have the direct power of provoking the complicated movements of articulate speech which develop instinctively after such stimuli as if awaking from the slumber of heredity”.

The author argues that it is well known that it is only from two to seven years that it is possible to acquire all the characteristic modulations of a language which it would be vain to attempt to establish later. “The mother tongue alone is well pronounced because it was established in the period of childhood; and the adult who learns to speak a new language must bring to it the imperfections characteristic of the foreigner’s speech: only children who under the age of seven years learn several languages at the same time can receive and reproduce all the characteristic mannerisms of accent and pronunciation. Thus also the defects acquired in childhood such as dialectic defects or those established by bad habits, become indelible in the adult”.

Montessori calls dictorium to the superior language, the stage that comes later seven years. “As the articulate language develops by the exercise of its mechanism and is enriched by perception, the dictorium develops with syntax and is enriched by intellectual culture”. The written language must be acquired only through the development of the dictorium as a mean fitted to secure culture and to permit the grammatical analysis and the construction of the language.

“Writing especially is surprisingly simple. For let us consider dictated writing: we have a perfect parallel with spoken language since a motor action must correspond with heard speech. Here there does not exist, to be sure, the mysterious hereditary relations between the heard speech and the articulate speech; but the movements of writing are far simpler than those necessary to the spoken word, and are performed by large muscles, all external, upon which we can directly act, rendering the motor channels permeable, and establishing psycho-muscular mechanisms. This indeed is what is done by my method, which prepares the movements directly; so that the psycho-motor impulse of the heard speech finds the motor channels already established, and is manifested in the act of writing, like an explosion”.

About the defects and imperfections of language, Montessori says that are “in part due to organic causes, consisting in malformations or in pathological alterations of the nervous system; but in part they are connected with functional defects acquired in the period of the formation of language and consist in an erratic pronunciation of the component sounds of the spoken word”.

Montessori says “such errors are acquired by the child who hears words imperfectly pronounced, or hears bad speech. The dialectic accent enters into this category; but there are also vicious habits which make the natural defects of the articulate language of childhood persist in the child, or which provoke in him by imitation the defects of language peculiar to the persons who surrounded him in his childhood”.

Montessori offers in her methods exercises for the corrections of language, they are: Exercises of Silence (which prepare the nervous channels of language to receive new stimuli perfectly); Lessons which consist first of the distinct pronunciation by the teacher of few words (especially of nouns which must be associated with a concrete idea); exercises in graphic language, which analyse the sounds of speech and cause them to be repeated separately in several ways: that is, when the child learns the separate letters of the alphabet and when he composes or writes words, repeating their sounds which he translates separately into composed or written speech; and Gymnastic Exercises, which comprise both respiratory exercises and those of articulation.

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