The Impact of Different Social Class Mothers’ Verbal Input on
Children’s Language Acquisition
Department of English, Tamkang University, Taiwan
In recent years, psychologists have become increasingly aware that children’s
early social interactions play an important role in development of language skills. (Nelson, 1981) In addition, Bloom (1956) ever stated that from pregnancy to four years old, children’ IQ develop 50%, and then from four years old to eight years old,
children’s IQ add another 30%. During this period, children’s language acquisition
would develop soon and well. Therefore, mothers’ verbal input would influence
children’s language acquisition. From this statement the researcher understands that at this period the children’s language acquisition becomes a vital issue.
In children’s development, parents are children’s first teachers and family becomes the first teaching place. (Huang, 2004) As Olson (1986) claimed that mothers will give children the most input. From mothers’ verbal input, children can
acquire the language gradually. Also Snow (1977) showed the importance of mothers’ speech to their children’s language. In children’s language development, mothers play the important role. From their points the researcher can realize the importance of mothers’ verbal input. However, even the researcher emphasizes on
the importance of mothers, there are still lots of variables to consider. Different social class mothers will affect children’s language development. (Hoff-Ginsberg,
1991, Lewis & Wilson, 1972) For example, Kagan and Tulkin (1972) stated that middle class mothers engaged in meaningful verbal interactions. Low-income mothers always talk less to their children. (Hoff-Ginsberg, 1991) Through those evidences, we eager to know if those variables will affect children’s language learning.
As a result, this study investigated the relationship between different social class mothers’ verbal input and children’s language acquisition. In addition, in order to
observe the relationship between mothers’ verbal input and children’s language
acquisition, this study adopted both qualitative and quantitative research to examine the significant difference among different social class mothers. Moreover, the researcher used correlational research to investigate the relationships between mother-child interactions. Furthermore, from this study, I hope our government can get some ideas for children’s education policy.
The goal of this study is to investigate if different social class mothers would
have different impact on their children’s language acquisition. In addition, from the
findings of this study, the researcher is eager to give a suggestion to the education policy in foreign spouse education.
There are two research questions involved in this study.
1. Is there significant difference between middle-class and working-class mothers’
2. Is there any significant relationship between different social class mothers’ input
and their children’s language acquisition?
Based on the two research questions, the researcher would adopt T-test and correlational research to find the relationship between those variables.
The hypotheses of this study are in the following:
1. According to the previous studies, the researcher supposed that middle-class mothers will provide more positive input to their children.
2. The researcher supposed that there is significant relationship between mothers’
verbal input and their children’s language acquisition. (Lieven, 1994, Olson, 1984
& Snow, 1977)
1. Mother-child interaction:
During the conversation, the mother provides the child lots of verbal input, and the child receives it. Then the child provides the output to his mother. During the process they should keep the conversation coherent. The purpose is that the child may be able to attain optimum psychosocial development.
Social class can be decided from three main factors—educational degree,
income and career. Therefore, the middle class refers to people neither at the top nor at the bottom of a social hierarchy. In today's usage, the term is often applied to people who have a degree of economic independence, but not a great deal of social influence or power in their society. According to Chambers (1995), by a historical accident, the non-manual workers are the middle-class.
Like the previous definition, the working-class refers to a social class contrasted with middle-class and upper-class. The major characteristic is that people in this class should depend on their managers to survive. In addition, we can define the manual workers are the working-class.
Review of the Literature
In this chapter, related studies and variables will be reviewed and discussed. At the beginning, the basic theories of language acquisition will be described first.
Then from the social interaction theory, the main concern is the mother –child
interaction. After discussing the importance of mother’s speech, the factors
influencing mothers’ talk will be concerned in the following section. Finally a brief summary will be given and discussed.
Children’s language acquisition
In this section, the researcher discussed the basic theories of language acquisition. Differing viewpoints emerged from equally knowledgeable scholars. In this section, the researcher briefly reviewed the vital and famous theories, such as Skinner’ behaviorism, Chomsky’ rationalism, and Vygotsky’s interactionism.
There are various theories about language acquisition. As we know, different scholars have their different thoughts about language acquisition. One of the best-known theories is Skinner’s behaviorism. Skinner was commonly known in the
contribution of observing animals’ behavior. However, Skinner also devoted in
education through mechanical teaching and focused on stimuli-response connection. (Brown, 2000) Skinner (1957) stated that idea or meaning is explanatory fiction, and that speaker is merely the locus of verbal behavior, not the cause. However, in 1960s, Chomsky (1959) had a highly critic about Skinner’s behaviorism. (Brown,
2000) According to Chomsky (1965), he claimed the existence of innate properties of language to explain the child’s mastery of a native language. Chomsky believed
that people have inner knowledge about language learning. More recently, constructivism brings a new school of thought in language learning. Vygotsky (1978) proposed a new theory called ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) which means that it is a distance between a child’s actual cognitive capacity and the level of potential development. Children can achieve their potential ability through others’ teaching. Moreover, Vygotsky also stated that language is a kind of communication. Every one can learn language through the social interaction. In the following there would be more detailed explanation about social interaction and language acquisition.
Interaction and children’s language acquisition
Social interaction is an important factor in language acquisition. Vygotsky claimed that the social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Only when children interact with others in the social environment, their inner development will start. Therefore, social interaction will become one certain part of children’s development. Also in Gleason’s (2005) thought, he declared that conversations may be learned in early interactions, such as taking turns and the way they express. As a result, this life long process of development was dependent on
social interaction and that social learning actually leads to cognitive development. Moreover, generally speaking, the children’s social interaction is firstly occurred in the family. Thus at the beginning, children’s language acquisition will take place with their parents. Parents will become children’s first teachers. (Huang, 2004)
Moreover, from birth, mothers and children have the most familiar relationship. Children learn language from their mothers. Just as Brown (2000)’s statement,
language will be acquired through imitation. Snow (1977) declared language acquisition is a process of interaction between mother and child from birth. The purpose of mothers’ speech is to show children all the languages. Also Olson
(1986) stated the importance of learning environment. Mothers will give children’s numerous input so that children can learn the languages quickly. Therefore the input of mothers’ speech will affect children’s output. However, in children’s
development, there may not be just variable of mothers’ input. There is still
different variables affected language acquisition such as social status and cultural difference.
The social class and children’s acquisition
Social class can be divided into two subcategories, which mean the social status and cultural difference. Both class and culture are variables in which meaningful psychology phenomena may be found. (Lewis & Wilson, 1972) We can not just discuss one single part. In the following, the researcher discussed and reviewed the two variables of social class.
Sometimes social status plays a vital role in children’s language acquisition. We discern that learning languages should depend on numerous of input. For example, in Lewis and Wilson’s study (1972), they categorized mothers’ input into
several categories, such as reading, looking, smiling, and vocalizing to others. In this study, they proposed that different social status would have different influences on their children. In addition, education, career and economy would influence the forming of social status. According to Hoff-Ginsberg (1991), in his study, he investigated the low-income mothers and children’s development. This research
stated that poor and working-class children may have less opportunity to experience interaction of the sort suggested to support language development. Moreover, concluded from Kagan and Tulkin’s study (1972), they declared that middle-class
mothers would like to give their children stimulus things and have more interaction with their children. Based on the support of those researchers, social status and children’s language development have close relationship. However, in discussion of
social class, it is necessary to remember that it is not the only variable in children’s development. The cultural differences should be included. (Lewis & Wilson)
According to Moerk (2000), he discussed some different culture background mothers and their children. He claimed that in some cultures, some parents lack the concept of talking with their children. For example, Harkness and Super (1977) stated that the Kipsgis mothers take a much less active role in teaching their children talk. Compared French mothers and African mothers, African mothers don’t usually
talk to their children during child care or diapering (Rabain-Jamin, 1994). From those support, we understand that cultural differences will also influence the mothers’ input.
Input and interaction are crucial in children’s language development. From
above discussion, the researcher knows that mothers’ input may influence children’s
language acquisition. Moreover, when focusing on the mothers’ importance, the
researcher should also consider the variables of mothers, such as social status and cultural differences to observe if those variables have impact on children’s language
The purpose of this study is to investigate the significant relationship between different social class mothers’ input and children’s language learning.
According to those research goals, this study is eager to answer the two major research questions: (a) Is there significant difference between middle-class and working-class mothers’ speech? (b) Is there any significant relationship between
different social class mothers’ input and their children’s language acquisition?
Therefore, in order to correspond with the research goals and research questions, this chapter included four major parts: subjects, instruments, procedures and data analysis.
All of the subjects came from the school Institute of Tainan County. The researcher chose 2-6 year-old children to become the subjects. There were eight boys and two girls. At each age, I chose two children. One was from a Taiwanese family and the other was from a Vietnamese Family. Because of the degree of education, career and income, Taiwanese family represented for middle-class because the parents of this group were graduated from colleges. Also their careers were professionals, managers or owners. On the contrary, Vietnamese Family represented for working-class because their educational background was under college and their careers were like clerk, skilled manual workers or labors.
Recording and interview were used in this study. The researcher asked some background questions, such as family situation, mothers’ personality, and children’s personality. After that, the researcher used the tape-recording at home to record the conversation between mothers and children. Each recording lasted 30 minutes. When recording those conversations, the researcher controlled the conversation as naturally as possible. Avoid some unnatural talk happened during conversations.
At the beginning, the researcher used interview to investigate the background of every subject to control the variables, such as personality, family background and others. Then the researcher started to recode the conversations between mothers and the children. However, in order to avoid the anxiety, the researcher tended to involve in the situation. For example, before the recording, the researcher would establish a close relationship with them. Try to reduce the nervous atmosphere. The researchers would record 30 minutes in every subject, and then transcribed the recordings. Finally, after the data collection, the researcher analyzed the data and described the findings. Then from the analyzing consequences the researcher could infer the conclusion and even the suggestions.
In the following there is the basic research design.
Get the subjects
(From school institute)
Establish the close relationship
(Mean, T-test and Correlation)
This study used both qualitative approach and quantitative approach to investigate the relationship between mothers’ input and children’s language acquisition. About quantitative approach, the researcher used both Descriptive statistics and inferential statistics to examine the data.
T-test was used to examine the significant difference between different social class mothers’ input. Also the researcher listed six basic domains to calculate how many times the verbal input would happen during the recording time and then got the Mean score. The six domains were control, negative response, response to the speech, guiding, positive response and negative emotion. For example, ―Hurry up.
Eat your meal quickly.‖ was belonged to ―control domain.‖ ―No, don’t do that.‖ was
belonged to ―negative response domain.‖ If mothers or children response to others’
talk, those were belonged to ―response to the speech domain.‖ Also, ―You are so great.‖ was belonged to ―positive response domain.‖ ―At the beginning, you have to put it on the top, and then…..‖ was belonged to ―guiding domain.‖ Finally, ―You are not good. You are stupid.‖ was related to ―bad emotion domain.‖ After
categorizing the verbal input, the researcher used T-test to examine the difference.
Then Correlation analysis was used to determine if there was a significant difference between mothers’ verbal input and children’ output. From the six
domains, the researcher investigated if mothers verbal input would influence children’ language acquisition.
In this chapter, observed data were analyzed in the context of the research questions presented in chapter one. As the two hypotheses predicted the relationship between mothers’ verbal input and children’s language acquisition, findings are reported in relation to the T-test and Correlation coefficients. In this chapter, the first section presents the significant difference between social class mothers. In this section, the researcher used T-tests to report the final results. The second section presents the significant difference between mothers’ verbal input and children’s language acquisition. The researcher used Correlation coefficients to report the findings.
About the significant difference between different class mothers, based on Table 1, the researcher divided all the verbal input to six basic categories (A-control, B-negative response, C-response to speech, D-positive response, E-guiding and F-bad emotion.) In addition, the results present that only category E (guiding) has significant difference between different social class mothers. Other categories do not have significant differences. As the researcher discussed in the previous chapter, low-income mothers would talk less to their children. Also, some low-social class mother would lack the concept of talking to their children. As a result, when they talked to their children, they would just direct or control their children to do some tasks. However, middle-class mothers would try to guide their children to complete the tasks because of their higher educational degree. Those findings present in the Table 1.
Table 1 Significance of Differences between Different Social Class Mothers (Taiwan V.S. Vietnam)
Mean, Standard Derivations and T-test
Categories Nation n frequency Mean SD Significance
A Taiwan 5 31.00 6.20 2.16 .111
Control Vietnam 5 48.00 9.60 3.64 .119
B Taiwan 5 18.00 3.60 3.36 .639
Negative response Vietnam 5 14.00 2.80 1.48 .645
C Taiwan 5 70.00 14.00 9.82 .052
Response to speech Vietnam 5 19.00 3.80 1.92 .080
D Taiwan 5 21.00 4.20 1.64 .390
Positive response Vietnam 5 15.00 3.00 2.44 .393
E Taiwan 5 64.00 12.80 3.70 .004**
Guiding Vietnam 5 27.00 5.40 1.94 .007**
F Taiwan 5 10.00 2.00 1.22 .296
Bad emotion Vietnam 5 3.00 1.58 .298
p< .05 has significant difference
From this table, the findings present that Vietnam mothers used more control input to their children. In addition, comparing with the Mean in C (Response to speech), Taiwan mothers would talk more to their children. On the contrary, Vietnam mothers tended to talk less to their children.
In addition, the researcher found that only in E (guiding) there is significant difference between Taiwan and Vietnam mothers verbal input.
Moreover, about the research question two, the researcher used Correlation coefficient to investigate the relationship between mothers’ input and children’s
language acquisition. From the findings, the researcher concluded that only in A (Control), B( Negative response ), D(Guiding) and F(Bad emotion) there are significant relationship between mothers and children in Taiwan families. It means
that when mothers used verbal input such as control, negative response, positive response and bad emotion, children would be influenced by their mothers, and then children use more similar output. Those findings are presented in the following tables.
Table 2 The Mean and Derivation of the six Categories between Mothers and Children (Taiwan)
Categories n Mean SD
A Mother 5 6.20 2.16
Control Child 5 5.40 1.14
B Mother 5 3.60 3.36
Negative response Child 5 4.60 3.91
C Mother 5 14.00 9.82
Response to speech Child 5 12.20 5.58
D Mother 5 4.20 1.64 Positive response Child 5 4.00 2.82 E Mother 5 12.80 3.70 Guiding Child 5 1.80 2.49 F Mother 5 2.00 1.22 Bad emotion Child 5 3.80 4.14
Table 3 The Significant Relationship between Mothers’ Verbal Input and Children’s
Language Acquisition (Taiwan)
Categories Correlation between child and mother A Pearson correlation coefficient .971** Control Significance .006 B Pearson correlation coefficient .973** Negative response Significance .005 C Pearson correlation coefficient .793 Response to speech Significance .110 D Pearson correlation coefficient .968** Positive response Significance .007 E Pearson correlation coefficient -.494 Guiding Significance .398 F Pearson correlation coefficient .886** Bad emotion Significance .045