How do we help our children develop? One of the most important ways we can help children grow to be literate adults is to speak to them from the time they are born.
Much discussion is being brought to the forefront on early language acquisition and the way it affects many parts of the child’s development. In all the reading I have done on this subject and from my personal experience watching children grow, I am convinced that the most important way to help a child with language acquisition is to talk to him/her.
Let’s think about the way we all learn to run. First we creep, then we crawl, then we stand, then we totter as we walk, then we walk with more assurance. Along the way, we may try to run, but we always must return to acquiring the walking skill first. Eventually, we will run. Language is very much like this. First a child listens, then babbles, then tries simple sounds, progressing to one syllable words, on to simple two syllable words, and then truly recognizable words. Eventually, these words will be strung together into sentences, at first simple and probably without connecting words. This is all part of the development of language.
I tell my piano students all the time that practicing is very important, and it is more important to do it every day in small chunks than to sit down on the last day and practice hours. We don’t have to tell young children to practice language because they are doing it naturally every time they listen to someone speaking or when they are babbling. We do have to be aware of just how much children learn as they listen – it might not be appropriate language!
That being said, it is important to speak to your child. Language acquisition has been shown to be linked to socio-economic situations but can be corrected with education for parents. One study in 2003 showed that children followed from seven months to four years showed disparate rates of language acquisition. “Children in well-off families-where the parents were typically college-educated professionals-heard an average of 2,153 words an hour spoken to them, whereas children in families on welfare heard an average of 616 words. By the age of four this difference translated to a cumulative gap of some 30 million words” (Bhattacharjec 70-71).
Another experiment was done where children nine months old from English-speaking families were taught Mandarin by native speaking Chinese tutors through play and reading. Another group was taught by the same tutors through video, and a third group was taught through the audio track of the video. At the end of the study, children who had the live tutors were able to differentiate as well as native children. Neither of the other groups showed any learning (71).
I found this terribly frightening. What a responsibility we have to speak with our children. As we talk, sing, and read, we are introducing sounds, vocabulary, ideas, and concepts that will grow our children to healthy, literate adults.
You might find the following links interesting reading on this topic:
Bhattacharjec, Yudhijit. “Baby Brains.” National Geographic January 2015: 70-71. Print.