In addition to the spontaneous maturation of the nervous system, speech development is greatly influenced by the environment. The older the child the stronger the influence. But even in infancy, the environment can influence the pace at which new sounds appear in children’s speech. The more the adults deal with the child the faster the speech will develop. The more they speak to it the more they encourage it to imitate their speech. Children who are often in the company of adults learn to speak faster than children who predominantly move in the circle of other children. This is understandable if we take into account that speech develops the most on the basis of imitation of mature speech of adults and identification with them. The child does not find a special role model in its peers, it does not find an object of identification in them, so it has nothing to imitate. Therefore, other children’s company does not have a particularly stimulating effect on the development of children’s speech.
The role of adults in the formation of children’s speech is not limited to serving as an object of imitation. In this regard, emotional contact between the child and his or her caregivers is very important. If a child finds itself in a sensually warm environment that receives it with love and with full interest in its needs, its speech will develop faster than in an emotionally cold, disinterested environment that does not pay individual attention to the child. Thus, already in infancy, there are obvious differences in the development of speech of children living with their family and those who are placed in a new institution. If a child spends the first three years of his or her life in an orphanage, his or her speech is very likely to develop harder and slower, along with intelligence and emotional development. It is speech that most emotionally reflects a child’s emotional underdevelopment. Because it also inhibits its intellectual growth, it makes it difficult for the child to mature through insufficient mental development.
Descoeudres A., Stern W., Bühler Ch., and other child psychologists have shown that children of parents with lower education progress more slowly in speech formation than children of parents with higher education. The lag of the former in speech development is – according to Stern – an average of 8 months. This is obviously due to the fact that more cultured parents are usually more concerned with their children, so they encourage them to speak more, and their speech is more developed, so they serve children as a more perfect role model for learning. Parents’ lack of interest in children, i.e. educational neglect, is most evident in the relatively insufficient development of speech.
The enrichment of children’s speech is positively influenced by numerous contacts with other people, trips, travels, attending various events, listening to stories and children’s radio, television shows and all other sources of encouragement for speech improvement.
Individuals, on average, progress faster in speech development than children who have siblings. This is because parents are usually more concerned with the child if they have only one.
That the intensive contact with adults is a very important factor in the maturation of children’s speech is best proved by the fact that in twins speech matures much more slowly than in children who are an only child or have older siblings. This is due to the fact that a child of the same age has a very weak stimulating effect on the formation of another child’s speech because its speech development is equal. In addition, parents deal with both twins in the same way, so they have to share the parents’ attention and cannot take advantage of their presence as much as children of different ages or if they’re an only child.
It is unfavorable for the development of a child’s speech that the child listens to two different languages or two very different dialects of the same language at the same time. Simultaneous mastering of two languages (bilingualism *) is too much of a burden for a small child. Then it does not learn either language at a normal pace, but lags behind in speech formation or even suffers from a neurotic speech disorder in the form of stuttering.
Every activity, especially playing, has a stimulating effect on the development of children’s speech. Children prefer to talk when playing with dolls and toys that represent home furniture; then when playing with sand, clay and other unshaped material. They talk less when they draw, when they cut out shapes out of colorful paper, or when they look at picture books.
Between the ages of two and five, most children experience some speech difficulties. It is the most common in the repetition of words, either whole or just individual syllables. On average, this happens with every fourth word. As the child grows, such repetition becomes less frequent. Studies by Martin and Stendler have shown that 85% of children between the ages of three and four get stuck in their speech to a greater or lesser extent. This is a phenomenon called physiological stuttering, and it is more common in boys than in girls.
The cause of physiological stuttering should be sought in the fact that the child progresses faster in acquiring an inventory of words than it can apply them in a meaningful connection. There is a transient discrepancy between the individual components of speech, which is manifested in equally transient difficulties in pronouncing words. In most cases, they disappear spontaneously by the age of five, when the basic development of children’s speech ends. But they can intensify, prolong and even turn into real, pathological stuttering if the parents react to these disturbances in children’s speech with too much worry and fear or with impatience and aggression.