Don't Put Children into Linguistic Boxes!
Updated: Aug 6, 2018
I taught Child Language Acquisition at an advanced level for almost a decade and so have a reasonable idea of the linguistic levels of different age groups. Even so, when I'm writing, I don't screen out words which are notionally outside the linguistic range of my intended audience. The challenge is to lead your readers to understanding.
How to carry a ten-year-old reader to an understanding of "diaphanous"? Firstly, the illustration gives the sense of a feathery, floating movement. Then there is a kind of onomatopoeia in the word; you can taste it and feel it, that rhythmic pulse and the soft central 'f' sound. When I've asked children in schools what they make of it, they say that it sounds 'floaty', 'soft' and 'silky' - nuances which come in part from the context. The golden moment for me was when a girl said she was going home to tell her Mum she was 'diaphanous'. So don't lock up those young minds; set them free.
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