Friday, May 09, 2014

Approaching child language essay questions

With the 2014 ENGA1 exam fast approaching, I thought I'd add a few quick posts to help with revision and exam technique. This post is about the Language Development essay in Section B of the paper.

Key things to remember here are:
  • You need to answer the question! Generic, all-purpose answers only get you so far; it's vital to actually address the question that you've been set.
  • Your intro doesn't need to be talk about all the stages, pre-verbal and otherwise; it's much better to unpack the question's wording in your intro. For example, in the question "Discuss how children develop their vocabulary and learn to use it appropriately", think about what the two key areas actually mean: vocabulary = lexis and semantics & "use it appropriately" = pragmatics.
  • Use examples to illustrate your points. It's not enough to just say general things about what children do: quote actual examples either from your own study or from the data provided in the short question before.
  • Don't just offload theory: evaluate it too. Try to find the most appropriate theoretical explanations for different aspects of children's language acquisition. If the question is on vocabulary and pragmatic understanding, social interaction and cognitive theories are probably more appropriate than nativist ones. If you've studied usage-based theories, they might be a really good explanation for how children develop their vocabularies in chunks rather than as separate lexical items.
  • Try to offer a line of argument. While AO1 is only worth 5 marks on this question, it's important to guide your reader. Use signposting techniques to allow your reader to follow where your argument is going.

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