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Talk Your Child Clever
Most parents can’t wait for their baby to say their first word. This usually happens between nine months and a year. From around the age of two, a child should be able to use simple phrases and by the age of three should be able to use complete sentences. By four, he should be able to speak fully, although he may still make grammatical mistakes. He should master the basic language at five.
There is no doubt that language acquisition is one of the key milestones in early childhood development. Much of the child’s future social and intellectual development depends on this milestone. Language delay can lead to isolation and withdrawal, learning difficulties and poor academic performance. Recent research has revealed a dramatic link between children’s spoken and written language development and the importance of language acquisition for basic reading skills.
Many parents believe that the term “language development” means that a child’s acquisition of language is an automatic process. However, this is not the case. There is nothing that any human being knows or can do that he has not learned. This is especially true for language acquisition.
A child starts learning a language from the day it is born. From the first moment, it is the responsibility of the parents to lay the right foundation, which 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 speech development.
HOW LANGUAGE IS ACQUIRED
Parents should start talking to their little baby from the day they are born. Some mothers are quiet and reserved by nature. Others have the unfortunate notion that it is foolish to talk to their children when they know they don’t understand. A mother who doesn’t talk all the time while feeding, bathing, and dressing her baby lays the groundwork for a late talker.
A child learns language in only one way, and that is by listening to the language when the parents speak and speak to him. The more the parent can talk to the child, often repeating the same words, the same phrases, the same structures over and over again, the sooner the child will learn the language.
It is important to note here that by the time a baby is about nine months old, he should be able to understand simple words and commands. He might even be able to say a few simple words. However, one always finds that a child understands much more than he is able to say. In fact, it remains so for every person throughout his life. A person is always able to understand any language, even his mother tongue, more than he is able to use in active speech. This is even more true of any second or third language one is able to speak.
This shows that we have two more or less separate masses 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, we use our active vocabulary.
It is important to note here that the child’s passive vocabulary is formed by constant and constant repetition of words, phrases or structures. Once a word, phrase or structure is repeated often enough, it becomes part of the child’s active vocabulary. This shows that active vocabulary can only be improved through 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. It will be part of his passive vocabulary long before then. This means that parents should create as many opportunities as possible in which their child can hear them speak.
THE SECRET OF READING TO YOUR CHILD
Parents should read to their children as often as possible. However, the secret to optimal language development is to read the SAME stories over and over and over.
In the “good old days” there weren’t as many storybooks as there are today. Parents were forced—this was also part of the child-rearing traditions—to tell their children over and over the few stories they knew, or to read to their children over and over the few books they owned. They also spent a lot of time teaching their children nursery rhymes and songs. As I found out for myself through my own son, this repetition of the same stories and nursery rhymes over and over again was extremely beneficial for language acquisition. In fact, I took this tradition to an extreme and only exposed my son to ONE book for almost two years.
Soon after my older son Gustav was born, I bought him a book with the story of Pinocchio. The book was intended for four-year-old children. In addition to talking to him all the time, I started reading to him from this book when he was only two or three months old – as often as I could, over and over and over. I found it tedious, of course. However, Gustav liked it and the results of this experiment paid off all my efforts. 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 he turned to a new page, all he had to do was read the first word or two on that page and he would recite the rest of the page like a parrot. It may seem quite unnecessary in itself, but it was very important that the vocabulary in this book soon became a part of his everyday speech. Early on, he was miles ahead of his age group in terms of language development. In fact, to this day his vocabulary and ability to speak intelligibly is quite astounding.
When the child is a little older, we should start teaching him nursery rhymes. The research showed that three-year-old children’s knowledge of nursery rhymes was a significant predictor of later pre-reading skills even after children’s IQ and their mothers’ education levels were partialed out.
While an apple a day will keep the doctor away, talking forever will make your child smart!
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