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Talk Your Child Clever
Most parents can hardly wait for their baby to say their first word. This usually happens between nine months and a year. From about two years, the child should be able to use simple sentences, and after three he should be able to use full sentences. By four, he should be fully able to speak, although he may still make grammatical mistakes. By five, he should have acquired a basic language.
There is little doubt that language acquisition is one of the key milestones in early childhood development. Much of a child’s future social and intellectual development depends on this milestone. Language delay can lead to isolation and withdrawal, and to learning difficulties and poor academic performance. Recent research has revealed a dramatic link between the development of spoken and written language among children, and the importance of language acquisition to basic reading skills.
Many parents believe that the term “language development” implies that the child’s acquisition of language is an automatic process. However, this is not the case. There is nothing that any man knows or can do that he has not learned. This is especially true of language acquisition.
The child starts learning a language from the day he is born. From the first moment, it is the responsibility of the parents to establish a proper foundation that will enable the child to acquire adequate language skills. Just as parents must ensure that a child follows a healthy and balanced diet for optimal physical development, they must take steps to ensure optimal language development.
HOW LANGUAGE IS ACQUIRED
Parents should start talking to their baby from the day of his birth. Some mothers are naturally quiet and reserved. Others have the unfortunate idea that it is foolish to talk to their babies, knowing that they do not understand. The mother who does not constantly talk while feeding, bathing and dressing her baby lays the foundation for a late talker.
The baby learns language in only one way, and that is by hearing language as the parents speak and speaking to it. The more a parent can talk to a child, often repeating the same words, the same sentences, the same structures over and over again, the sooner the child will learn a language.
An important thing to note here is that when a baby is about nine months old, he should be able to understand simple words and commands. He might also be able to say a few simple words already. Invariably, however, it is found that the baby understands much more than he is able to say. In fact, this remains so of any person throughout his life. One is always able to understand more of any language, even one’s mother tongue, than one is able to use in active speech. This is even more so for any second or third languages that a person is able to speak.
This shows that we have two more or less separate sets of language knowledge, our PASSIVE knowledge (also called receptive language) on the one hand, and our ACTIVE (expressive language) on the other. When we listen or read, we use our passive vocabulary, and when we speak or write, our active vocabulary.
An important thing to note here is that the child’s passive vocabulary was created through constant and continuous repetition of words, phrases or structures. Once a word, phrase or structure is repeated often enough, it also becomes part of the baby’s active vocabulary. This shows that the active vocabulary can only be improved THROUGH the passive. Research has shown that a child who is just starting to speak needs to hear a word about 500 times before it becomes part of their active vocabulary. Long before that it will form part of his passive vocabulary. This means that parents need to create as many opportunities as possible in which their baby can hear them speak.
THE SECRET OF READING TO YOUR CHILD
Parents should read to their children as often as possible. The secret, however, that will lead to optimal language development is to read the SAME stories over and over.
In the “good old days” there were not the abundance of storybooks that exist today. Parents were forced – it was also part of the child-rearing traditions – to tell their children over and over the few stories they knew, or to read over and over to their children the few books in their possession. They also spent a lot of time teaching their children rhymes and songs. As I myself discovered through my own son, repeating the same stories and rhymes over and over again was extremely useful for language acquisition. In fact, I took this tradition to the extreme, exposing my son to only ONE book for almost two years.
Shortly after the birth of my older son, Gustavo, I bought him a book with the story of Pinocchio. The book was aimed at four-year-olds. Besides talking to him constantly, I started reading to him from this book when he was only two or three months old – as often as possible, over and over. I found this tedious, of course. Gustavo loved it though, and the results of this experiment made all my efforts worthwhile. Not only did he start talking much earlier than most children, but by the time he was just over two years old, he could recite almost every page of Pinocchio. When turning to a new page, one only had to read the first word or two on that page and he recited the rest of the page like a parrot. In itself this may seem completely useless, but it was very important that the vocabulary in this book soon became part of his everyday speech. In terms of language development, he was soon miles ahead of his age group. In fact, to this day, his vocabulary and his ability to speak with clarity are quite astonishing.
When a child is a little older, you should start teaching him nursery rhymes. Research has shown that knowledge of nursery rhymes among three-year-olds was a significant predictor of later pre-reading skills even after the children’s IQ and their mothers’ educational levels were partitioned.
While an apple a day keeps the doctor away, talking forever makes your child smart!
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