Word Definitions and Comprehension of Figurative Language Project

In general, children aged four to twelve years old lack vocabularies for defining some words particularly those that are not familiar to them or to express their thoughts about them. Their lack of vocabulary may be partly a result of the structure of the English language as most often, the common use of words to define something is vague and imprecise (Freeman 1989, p. 523). Nevertheless, Heath, Potter & Perry (1995) pointed out that as the world of preschoolers expand beyond the family boarder where they meet other children and adults, their vocabulary increase rapidly and by the age of five, they will have a vocabulary of more than 2000 words enough to define familiar objects, identify colors, and express their desires and frustrations (p. 130).  Lerner, Easterbrooks, & Mistry (2003) stressed that language is “a social phenomenon and that language development is a social process” (p. 173).Therefore the more children associate with other children, the more that he learns new vocabulary.  Furthermore Heath, Potter & Perry stated that cognitive changes “provide the school-aged child with the ability to think in a logical manner about the present, but not about abstraction” (Heath, Potter & Perry 1995, p. 131). In other words, their thoughts are no longer dominated by their perceptions, and that their ability to understand the world greatly expands. In their study regarding when children begin to acquire the language-specific meanings, Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff (2006) pointed out that children acquire language-specific semantics that pay close attention to linguistic input from very early on “as their semantic categories are guided by ambient language from virtually the comprehension period of language development” (p. 195).Language development among middle childhood (children age 5 to 12 years old) is so rapid during this period of the child’s life. Heath, Potter & Perry noted that the average 6-year old boy has a vocabulary of about 3000 words that “quickly expands with exposure to peers and adults and reading ability” (p. 132). During this stage, children improve their use of language and expand their structural knowledge and became more aware of the rules of syntax, the rules of linking words into phrases and sentences. Heath, Potter and Perry stressed that it is during this stage that they learn “to use different words for the same object or concept and they understand that a single word may have many meanings” (p. 132).The SubjectMy subject is a boy named Mark age 10 years old. Mark is friendly and loves to play along with other children in the neighborhood. He is a second child among three siblings and he is greatly attached to his family.As I observed him, he usually initiates contact with peers in order to play with them, a character that made him smarter in the way he associates with other children. He is obviously both physically and emotionally healthy and is really a smart kid. He attends school at a nearby public school in their place and he is apparently doing fine because he has been getting good grades since he enters grade school. Although Mark is a native English language speaker, He is learning French as his second language.ProcedureAfter I got permission from Mark’s parents, I invited him along with his father and two of my friends at a mini-park in their area where we can talk casually and under no pressure. I asked one of my friend to write down Mark’s answer he and sat together at a bench and I sat  in squat position opposite Mark and facing at him while my other friend and Mark’s father were on the other side about five meters away from us. It was around 3: 30 P.M. and it was quite a perfect weather.It was not difficult for me to ask the words because Mark was already prepared about it. He was very relaxed and the conversation was just very casual. I prepared         the questions and the words orderly and everything was well prepared. The first thing I did was to ask what for him is a car followed by each the words listed on my notes. After the first set of words was finished, I handed him a sandwich and juice in order for him to have some break. Indeed we all had a short break by sipping the juice which I prepared for each of us.The next thing I asked him was about the figurative language. This was quite difficult for him because the words are idiomatic expression. That means he has to draw answer from his own understanding of the words. So I had to also give some clue in order for him to catch up with meaning of the words. Overall, Mark was able to answer all the questions for me to be able to complete my observation. We then left back their house and before leaving I thank Mark and his father for the wonderful time they gave for that purpose and I assure that Mark was really doing fine. We finished our work at about 5: 30 P.M.ResultsOn the question what is a car, Mark says “Car is used to transport people to places they want to go.” When I asked him what a dog is, his reply was “Dog is guard in the house,” “dog is man’s best friend.” On the question what a table is, he replied, “A table is where the plates for dinning are placed during meal time” “It’s were we dine during meal time” while his answer on what an apple for him is, “apple is a fruit, a tree.” What is a bat? Mark says “a bat is a bird that lives in a cave” What is a book, his answer was “a book is used to make people smart,” what is a house, “a house is a shelter especially when it is raining.” On the question what is a word, he easily defines it, “A word is used to make a sentence,” and when I asked him what it means of uncle; he said “Uncle is the brother of either my father or my mother.” What is your relationship with him? He said “he’s my uncle.”On this first set of questions, I noticed that he had answered all the questions without much difficulty. Indeed he answered each question straight and in a very normal and relaxed mode while enjoying watching some people with their dogs. His vocabulary seemed to be wide enough to make fast answer to my queries.On the figurative language however, he had some difficulty understanding what they meant. This is not surprising however, because such words are idiomatic expression and meaning does not come from the words it self. Following were his answers to the questions asked of him.When some would say “it is raining cats and dogs” what does it mean?” In this question, he finds it very difficult because it was his first time to hear that words. So I had to ask it again in a different way, and giving a little background how it originated in England. He then answered “it means there is a typhoon; it means it’s raining heavily.”The next question was easier for him. When I asked “if your uncle would say of you, ‘did the cat get your tongue, what does he mean?” His answer was “May be he noticed that I’m so silent, may be he was wondering why I don’t talk at all, may be he wants me to talk with him.” On the third question, when I asked him, when someone tells you, “Your birthday is around the corner, what does it mean?” his answer was, “yeah, it means my birthday is near.” “Maybe he just wants to remind me it’s going to be my birth in a couple of days.”However, he again had difficulty on the next question. But then he was able to answer correctly. When I ask him, what does it mean when your teacher tells you, “Mark do you have ants in your pants?” His answer was, “Maybe he finds me uncomfortable” “I think she looks at me I’m restless, or she just wants to just be still in seat.” Finally, when I asked him, what does it mean when someone says, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatched?” his answer was “May be it means like, if you wanna buy something, don’t buy anything if you are not really sure you like it.” “Yeah it means you be sure about the thing”Mark’s responses indicate that his vocabularies on simple words are good enough for him to able to define such familiar words. However, on figurative language he finds most difficult to explain. But as I said, this could be understandable because words in idiomatic expressions carry meanings that are outside the word.DiscussionAs per my introduction is concern, Freeman noted that children lack vocabulary for expressing their thoughts on vague and imprecise words. However, Heath, Potter and Perry (1995) stressed that children’s vocabulary is rapidly expanding and they are sufficient in defining familiar words. His definitions of most of the words are functional in nature as reflected in the first three definitions. First, his definition of car implies the role or function of a car, the same with his definition of dog and table, which clearly speaks of functions rather than category.His definitions of vocabulary words are mostly concrete and personal rather than conceptual and abstract. Based on the three examples cited earlier, Mark’s idea of a car is concrete because he expresses very well what a car is to people. His idea of the two other words implies the same notion. It there conforms to the statement by Heath, Potter, and Perry (1995) that a preschooler’s vocabulary is rapidly increasing and that a five year old child’s vocabulary is sufficient to define familiar words. Mark is ten and his vocabulary is enough to concretely define the words.The way Mark defines words that I ask of him, mostly of his definitions does not include semantic categories as most of his definitions are literal and straight forward. He defines each word based on his understanding and his thoughts were expressed in such a way that they are clearly stated.On the figurative language, Mark clearly interpreted each set of figurative language literally although he had some difficulty on some of the figurative language. However, this confirms Freeman’s (1998) argument that children age four to twelve lack sufficient vocabularies to define unfamiliar words. I believe that Mark responses are in normal age ranges and his definition of development and figurative language comprehension. I think of this because he could clearly express his thoughts with much difficulty. Although he also had some difficulty on some difficult figurative language, yet as Freeman says, children under twelve year’s old lack’s sufficient vocabularies to define difficult words.