March 19, 2014

Talking to Babies

This morning as I was perusing the newspaper as I was drinking coffee, I came across the following article in the Detroit Free Press.  “Beyond baby talk:  Varied grammar, good vocabulary boosts baby skills.”  In class, we have just finished discussing child language acquisition, so the article was well timed.  (I love it when the topics we discuss in class are supported by news articles in the paper, on TV or on the Internet.)

I think the most important point made in the article is about the importance of exposing children to many different words, sentence structures and the rich variety of our language.  As reported in the news article, “Scientists have long known that before they start kindergarten, children from middle-class or affluent families have heard millions more words than youngsters from low-income families, leaving the poorer children with smaller vocabularies and less ready to succeed academically. Fernald said by some measures, 5-year-olds from low-income families can lag two years behind their peers in tests of language development.”  If this is the case, then the best thing to do is to talk to children in meaningful ways which are directed by the child because beginning school with a two year lag in vocabulary development means that the child will be behind from the start of schooling and will have a difficult time catching up to their peers who do get off to a better start.

The article goes on to discuss the importance of learning from native speakers of a language.  In fact, and what surprised me, it stated that if, for example, parents are not fluent in English, then the parent should use their native language in the home to give the child a solid foundation in the native language that the parents speak.  Then, a child will learn another language, such as English, once they begin school.  I found this interesting because as a preschool teacher, I encouraged non-native English speaking parents to practice English by reading to their young children or using English outside of the home so that the parents can develop their skills.  (To be clear, I never said that parents should not use their native language with their children.  They have to!  That’s how a child living in the USA will learn a language other than English.)

Child language development is a very interesting area of research, and an important area of research that we all need to know more about.  Read the article.  What are your thoughts?


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