Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Learning to Speak

            Sometimes as mothers and fathers we actually do the right thing for our child without even knowing it.  When the doctor handed me my baby for the first time I began to talk to her softly.  I think I told her I loved her and was glad she was with us.  When I changed her diaper for the first time she was awake, a little fussy, and looked so small and vulnerable that I could not help but talk to her.  I don’t remember what I said specifically but I spoke softly in a sing-song voice that I did not know I had.  She calmed down when she heard me speak so I continued; in fact, I talked to her a lot.  Not just when I changed her diaper but when I held her, carried her, played with her, traveled with her, pretty much all the time except when she was asleep. I was already succeeding as a great parent and I didn't even know it!

I found out later that it is important to a child’s language development to begin talking to them when they are brand new babies.  How do babies learn to speak?  What can a parent do to help?  I learned that by the time my little girl turned two and a half, she would have 600 words in her vocabulary and by age five or six she would know thousands of words. Wow!

Photo Credit 
Babies, toddlers and children progress at different rates.  Just as some babies are early crawlers; and some are late walkers, children gain language at different rates as well. All babies; regardless of their culture or native language, share the same steps to language learning. They begin with eye contact and will look at an object they want while reaching and vocalizing. The pre-linguistic part of language development begins with blowing bubbles, vocalizations, and crying. They do what works.

Steps to Language 
They begin talking with single words, usually a noun.  These first words can mean a whole sentence.  For example “up” could mean, “Mom I want you to pick me up.” These words are called holophrases, whole phrases which are full of meaning, because they are self-contained. Then children will begin using words in a telegraphic fashion.  Basically they only use the words that will convey what they want like “baby go”.  After the telegraphic stage they learn words at an amazing rate.  Two-year-olds, for example, often learn two to three new words each day. Three year olds have some trouble with pronouns but by the time they are four and five they will have mastered them. Four year olds will speak in complete and compound sentences, they will even make up words to fit their needs (Crosser, 2008)

Helping language development    
            The first way parents can help their child in language development is speaking in the way I did with my new born infant.  I did not know it at the time but this style of speech is called parentese and it provides a scaffold for the learning of language. Parentese is not baby talk, it involves using a slightly higher than normal pitch and exaggerated vowel sounds.  You need to use short and simple sentences, along with repetition.

            One of the best ways to help your baby in their language development is to provide an environment free of abuse and excess stress.  This will free your baby’s brain to create the necessary language connections. Encourage any attempts they make in their language development.  Above all, relax and enjoy your child, you are probably already doing most of the things that will help your child with their language development.

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