Language acquisition is a labor of love, but it’s labor-intensive

Mother-baby synchrony shows the start of language acquisition [1]

Language acquisition depends on social contact

Children get their information about language from their caretakers and the adults around them. They tend to pick up on the most frequent nouns, verbs and adjectives first, and then extend their range. They attend to what is in the joint focus of attention for adult and child, to what is physically and conversationally present, and hence to the language directed to them as addressees.[2]

Infant attention… was significantly higher in response to the live person than to either inanimate source… During live exposure, tutors focus their visual gaze on pictures in the books or on the toys they talk about, and infants’ gaze tends to follow the speaker’s gaze… Infants in the live exposure sessions were visibly aroused before the sessions – they watched the door expectantly, and were excited by the tutor’s arrival, whereas infants in the non-social conditions did not.

Exposure to a new language in a live social interaction situation induces remarkable learning in 9-month-old infants, but no learning when the exact same language material is presented to infants by a disembodied source.[3]

Language acquisition is fostered by emotional expression

…infant-directed speech style reflects free vocal expression of emotion to infants, in comparison with more inhibited expression of emotion in typical adult-directed speech. …infant-directed speech is accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions of emotion…[4]

American infants exposed in the laboratory to Mandarin Chinese rapidly learned phonemes and words from the foreign language, but only if exposed to the new language by a live human being during naturalistic play. Infants exposed to the same auditory input at the same age and for the same duration via television or audiotape showed no learning…[5]

…infant-directed prosody itself is not special. What is special is the widespread expression of emotion to infants in comparison with the more inhibited expression of emotion in typical adult interactions.

…infants prefer to listen to infant-directed speech expressing positive (approval) affect over infant-directed speech expressing negative (prohibition) affect…[4]

Infants of nondepressed mothers readily learned that their mothers’ speech signaled a face, whereas infants of depressed mothers failed to learn that their mothers’ speech signaled the face. Infants of depressed mothers did, however, show strong learning in response to speech produced by an unfamiliar nondepressed mother.[6]

Language acquisition takes substantial labor and time

… a mother’s immediate social feedback results both in greater numbers and more mature, adultlike vocalizations from infants…

…infants vocally imitate adult vowel sounds by 5 months but not acoustically matched nonspeech sounds that are not perceived as human speech…

By 10 months… Children raised in Beijing listening to Mandarin babble by using tonelike pitches characteristic of Mandarin, which make them sound distinctly Chinese. Children being raised in Seattle listening to English do not babble by using such tones and sound distinctly American.[5]

Language acquisition labor changes, but the labor continues

Parents frequently check up on what their children mean. They often do this by reformulating with a side sequence or an embedded correction what they think their children said. Since the child’s utterance and the adult reformulation differ while the intended meanings are the same, children infer that adults are offering a correction. Analyses of longitudinal data from five children between 2;0 and 4;0… show that (a) adults reformulate their children’s erroneous utterances and do so significantly more often than they replay or repeat error-free utterances; (b) their rates of reformulation are similar across error-types (phonological, morphological, lexical, and syntactic) in both languages; (c) they reformulate significantly more often to younger children, who make more errors.[7]

At a conservative estimate, the average 5-year-old child will have learned more than 2,000 words… and will learn up to 3,000 more per year in the coming school years…[8]


  1. Melina, Remy. “” LiveScience, 23 Aug. 2011, www.livescience.com/15709-toddlers-understand-complex-grammar.html. Accessed 14 Oct. 2017.
  2. Clark, Eve V. “How language acquisition builds on cognitive development.” Trends in cognitive sciences 8.10 (2004): 472-478.
  3. Kuhl, Patricia K. “Is speech learning ‘gated’ by the social brain?” Developmental science 10.1 (2007): 110-120.
  4. Trainor, Laurel J., Caren M. Austin, and Renée N. Desjardins. “Is infant-directed speech prosody a result of the vocal expression of emotion?” Psychological science 11.3 (2000): 188-195.
  5. Meltzoff, Andrew N., et al. “Foundations for a new science of learning.” Science 325.5938 (2009): 284-288.
  6. Kaplan, Peter S., et al. “Infants of depressed mothers, although competent learners, fail to learn in response to their own mothers’ infant-directed speech.” Psychological Science 13.3 (2002): 268-271.
  7. Chouinard, Michelle M., and Eve V. Clark. “Adult reformulations of child errors as negative evidence.” Journal of child language 30.3 (2003): 637-669.
  8. Baddeley, Alan, Susan Gathercole, and Costanza Papagno. “The phonological loop as a language learning device.” Psychological review 105.1 (1998): 158-173.

Reflective listening is helped by observing and getting in sync

Active listening by observing and getting in sync makes you come across as good-natured[1]

Reflective listening is easier when you factor in social styles

The Social Styles Profile, an adjective checklist that shows how people consistently describe others, was developed using factor analysis. Originally, our factor analysis had shown us five clusters or scales: 1) assertiveness; 2) versatility; 3) responsiveness; 4) aloofness; and 5) easygoing.

For the assertiveness scale, a very high odd-even reliability of 0.93 was found. The versatility scale had a reliability of 0.91. In testing the responsiveness and aloofness scales, we found some overlap of adjectives; thus, we combined these two scales, with a resulting reliability of 0.70. The easygoing scale did not have enough reliability to be statistically meaningful, and it was dropped.

…our research group investigated the question of whether one rater’s evaluation of a subject correlates with that of two other raters… The results were that assertiveness and responsiveness showed a significant positive correlation among raters; versatility was also positively correlated among raters, but the correlation was not as strong…

…because it appears that the versatility score, unlike the other two, has some positive and negative connotations to it—more endorsement versus less endorsement—we chose to keep it separate from the other two scales. Numerous studies have proved our contention that assertiveness and responsiveness are not a measure of success or endorsement, but that versatility is.

After the raw scores had been tallied, the scales were divided into fourths, so that 25 percent of the population was in each quartile.

Successful, well-regarded career persons were found along all ranges of the assertiveness and responsiveness scales—just as were less successful individuals.

Social styles labels analytical, driver, amiable, expressive, assertiveness, and responsiveness help with active listening

Social styles labels [2]

Reflective listening using social styles in turn means focusing on observables

Observables labels bring out the dimensions and combinations of the social styles, which helps with active listening

Observables labels

Assertiveness is a valid observable. Assertiveness values run along a well-understood continuum of passive—assertive—aggressive.

Openness conveys that what’s observed is how much a person holds his emotions closed-in or out in the open. Openness values run along a continuum of controlled—balanced—emotive.

Looking ahead, observing will be simpler if you can focus on the strongest variation in assertiveness or openness. Also, getting in sync will be simpler if you can benefit from the existing balance in your social style.

The assertive style can be learned. Start out balanced, and you can flex with less effort, or you can flex further and sync up better.

Balanced openness may never become second nature. But you can recognize which openness style feels like home to you, and be better prepared to flex here to sync up better.

The closing section provides direct guidance on how to use social styles observation and social styles sync for active listening:

  • When you’re observing someone, what are characteristic combinations of their observable actions?
    What do you see?

  • When you’re then syncing up to communicate better with him, what are characteristic combinations of your sync actions?
    What do you do?

Reflective listening requires watching the observables, and getting in sync

Your objective in communication is not merely to express yourself. Your aim is to get your idea across to somebody else.

Style flex provides a way of communicating on the other person’s wavelength without losing your own integrity (the substance of what you say stays the same), or your naturalness (most of your behaviors will be your typical ways of relating).

Observable/sync actions help with active listening

Observable/sync actions

Note:
An employer has no business with a man’s personality. Employment is a specific contract calling for specific performance, and for nothing else. Any attempt by an employer to go beyond this is usurpation. It is immoral as well as illegal intrusion of privacy. It is abuse of power. An employee… owes performance and nothing else.—Peter Drucker [3]


  1. Bolton, Robert, and Dorothy Grover Bolton. Social style/management style: Developing productive work relationships. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 1984, p. 15.
  2. Merrill, David W., and Roger H. Reid. Personal styles & effective performance. CRC Press, 1981, pp. 210-216, 53.
  3. Bolton, Robert, and Dorothy Grover Bolton. Social style/management style: Developing productive work relationships. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 1984, pp. 70, 73-76, 15-16.