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Chapter 10

Chapter 10 – Language and Literacy in the School Years
Elly Ramadhani Sipayung
How do the 21st century young children so articulate?
The above question is always effortlessly coming out of my mouth – almost like exclaiming
– whenever I see a very young child (less than five years old) talks so fluently – even with
the adults. By saying fluently, of course I do not mean they are able to talk as smooth with
rich dictions as adults do but they understand the context of the conversation so their
fluency in this regard is based on the development they possibly at based on their age,
still. Nippold (1998) as cited on the chapter (409/2/1) argues that children at the
kindergarten age (around five years old) have acquired a relatively great deal of worldly
experience and knowledge of the language command.
Just and Carpenter’s study (1987) as cited on the chapter (410/1/1) found that
approximately 3,000 words added to the children’s lexicon each year which just
emphasizes how rapid their vocabulary grows during school years (Anglin, 1993). Lexical
development determines the new words that possibly acquired by the children because
lexical is also related to the world knowledge (410/2/1). The more children understand
their surroundings, the more they capable in involving in a conversation (410/2/3). By
getting involved in a conversation and being able to carry it on, they are using the
vocabularies they mastered and are earning new ones throughout the conversation.
But back to my question, I raised that question with a particular ‘21st century’ adj. of time
for a reason. During my childhood, we the young children were not so keen of
communicating with the elders outside of our core family members. We did close with our
peers but still some of us would just shut their world down from everyone. In Pakpaknese,
my local language, we call this ‘jelman’ which literally means ‘afraid of human’. It
practically means a fear of having a conversation with others; an inability of confronting
others; even if it simply requires a greeting to the relatives who come to give a visit.
Someone who is ‘jelman’ will normally choose to hide in his room until the relatives leaves
the house. I was not belonged to ‘jelman’ people, however, I witnessed some of my
relatives, friends, or mere acquaintances who struggled with that. Part of factors which
surprises me how young children nowadays can mingle easily on daily basis with peers
and even the outsider adults.
Interactions with peers and the media
This chapter and the previous chapters including Vygotsky’s “Thought and Language”
provide abundant information about this matter. While Vygotsky refers to ‘the more
knowledgeable others’ to address the adults who help the children develop their language
and communicative competence and behavior (see chapter 6), Ely in this chapter
emphasizes the vital role of peers and the media beside of parents and other caregivers.
Ely argues that the empty space on a child’s linguistic skill can be filled in or scaffolded
by the parents, however, children are more likely to seek the company from other children
(411/1/1). Children’s communicative competence is developing through the interactions
with their peers (411/1/5). This stage is particularly playing a significant role, sometimes
more important that their interactions with parents because peers’ acceptance means
everything for children particularly because they spend most of their ‘independent’ time
with their peers, outside of their very immediate environment.
I would like to use the term ‘peer pressure’ here to emphasize the importance of having
a ‘good connection’ with peers – for our children – which children will encounter when
they enter adolescence when they start to ally themselves with their peers or in-group
(411/2/1). This alliance process involves language, a child with a good persuasive skill
may be able to build allies and a poor one can trigger chaos. This poor choice of words
includes language play, verbal humor (which others may find not funny but rather
offensive), and irony (412/2-415/3).
Peer Pressure and Acceptance
During my teaching experience at a kindergarten in Indonesia and micro-teaching (I taught senior
high school students) and community service (I taught elementary and junior high school
students), I witnessed some events regarding this matter I think worth to share. To make this
easier to read, I will describe the differences among those three situations (divided to two
categories: kindergarten and primary students, and junior and senior high school students) in a
table with some common utterances shared among students. Some details may slightly different
due to poor memory of mine, students’ name and other parties are also remains confidential.
Table 1
Differences between peer pressure (PP) and acceptance (PA) in primary and secondary
Kindergarten and Primary School Students
My niece Aisha (F/5) just enrolled in a
kindergarten I worked. She belonged to the
Grade B (preparation class for Primary 1).
Her classmates were mostly the second-year
students (they did their Grade A in the same
school as well) and so they already quite
familiar with each other.
Aisha first day. It was not the time yet to
start the class so some students were still
playing at the front yard. When I came with
Aisha (her father sent her to my mother’s
house every morning because she wasn’t
used to the school bus and my mother’s
house is really close to the school), they
stopped their games and started staring us
with a curious gaze.
Main peers are as follows:
Same sex peers: Abby (alias), a grade B
student with big appearance (quite very tall
for her age and among her peers); Rose
(alias), a grade B student, shy-natured;
Kinan, a grade B student, quite chatty.
Opposite sex peers: Gavin (alias), a grade
B student, friendly, crowned ‘the most goodlooking student’ title by his peers; Zach
(alias) a grade B student, friendly, a little bit
Junior and High School Students