Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 7 Conditions of Learning Language

I have been reading Helping Children Become Readers Through Writing by Arlene C. Schultze and I'm finding it very illuminating. It is accessible and draws on many staples of literary fact and example. I wanted to share for you all here today Cambourne's 7 conditions of learning language. I have read them before but have greatly enjoyed the reminder as the philosophy is one I agree with and employ.

Cambourne (and Schultze) assert that there are 7 conditions that must be present for a child to learn language. This translates from spoken language to written language over the course of a child's developmental years. They are conditions used mostly in the classroom for teachers of kindergarten and first grade...but why shouldn't parents know, too? If there's one word to describe a great literacy trajectory it would have to be abundance. Abundance of words, of chatter, of books, of encouragement, of practice. As Schultze says "parents do not force children to wait until it is 'talking time' two or three days a week to have experiences with language. Teachers too should allow students plenty of opportunities to independently use meaningful speech, reading and writing everyday." I would add to that that parents, too, should allow children the same written opportunities.

The 7 Conditions of Learning Language

1) Immersion.
When teaching literacy children should be saturated with language. This includes meaningful reading and writing and lots of talk time. A book before bed instead of television, your child's name on the refrigerator spelled out in block letters, nursery rhymes and poems recited out loud. We want to create a culture of literacy at home.

2) Demonstration.
When a child is learning language they receive thousands of demonstrations of speech all the time, every day. Demonstration in this sense refers to demonstrating to a child not just how you read and write but how you LEARN to read and write. This involves pointing at words as you say them, doing shared writing exercises, and, at home, demonstrating your own desire to read. I have spoken before about the importance of a strong "book" presence in the home. Children model what you do, not what you say. Read.

3) Approximation.
Young children use approximation in speech as they are learning to talk. They often do the same as they are learning to write. While a child is praised when they say "writed" they might be reprimanded when they put the same thing down on paper. Children should be encouraged to use approximations both in oral and written language. They are testing out the literary waters and beginning to store information that they will refine as time goes on.

4) Employment or Use.
There should be plenty of opportunities to engage in reading and writing. There should be independent reading and writing time as well as shared reading and writing time. Remember our key word: abundance.

5) Responsibility.
This is a condition I really believe in and love. It refers to the idea that children should be able to decide what topic and what conventions of language they want to master based on their individual needs. They should be responsible for the direction of their own language learning. If a child lives in Southern California, he or she might want to read and write about the ocean. If a child loves art, he or she might want to learn how to write the colors. When children are engaged in what they are learning they retain information much better and often at a much faster rate. Not to mention that then they begin to develop not just a need for but a love of reading and writing.

6) Feedback or Response.
The example Cambourne uses is this one: "How do we get a child to progress from saying 'I goed downtown' to 'I went downtown?'" Correcting a child, no matter how tempting, is not the answer. Instead we should use what is called "feedback and response." When a child says to you "I goed downtown" instead of saying "it's went downtown," we repeat their statement using the correct form of speech and then expand on it.
Example: "You went downtown? How exciting! What did you do when you went downtown?"
When a child hears the correct form in a non-corrective way it registers in their memory. By expanding the statement we also get the child to continue actively constructing language. The same method should be employed in a reading a writing workshop. Approximations should be encouraged and congratulated and then built on verbally. If a child has written "I goed downtown" on the page we can say the same thing in response that we would to a verbal comment and then encourage the child to keep writing from there.

7) Expectation.
Teachers (and parents) can expect that when all seven of these conditions have been met that children will learn how to read and write. Expectation is important when it comes to literacy. We want to let children grow with words in their own time while simultaneously retaining the belief that they will learn, and flourish.

Take some time this weekend to employ the 7 conditions and begin to make them staples in your own home.

Have a beautiful day,



  1. I had so many bad habits while learning, so my dad gave me as a birthday present some private english lessons in a language school while i was in berlin.

    They taught me how not to get distracted easily while learning new languages.

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