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For the Love of Language
Tips for language development for babies and toddlers
I am not a psychologist, teacher or speech therapist. I’m just an ordinary mom who has done a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong. But I happen to have a 2-year-old son, Joshua, who has a particularly good command of the language (not just according to his totally irrelevant mom, but also according to some teachers and child development professionals), so I’m often asked how we ‘did it’. Of course, Garrick (my husband) and I didn’t “do it”, Joshua did. And there are a number of factors—from genetics to how slowly he started walking—that could explain his vocabulary and pronunciation abilities. That said, I took some time to reflect on how we handled language in our home, and I can share this.
Start at the very beginning
Talk to your children from the word go, or rather “No way, two stripes, I’m pregnant!” It is well documented that little jelly beans acquire language skills in the womb, especially the sounds and rhythms of their native language(s). Garrick used to read a lot of complicated metaphysical literature, but there’s really no need beyond reading your favorite magazine, novel, or even e-mails aloud to a budding Shakespeare. It’s the voice that counts, not the content.
Talk, talk, talk
We talked (and still do) with Joshua all day. Whether it was in the bag as a tiny little creature, or in the car seat while Garrick drove, we explained what we were doing (look, Mom is adding soap to the water) or what we were seeing (the wind is blowing today, see those leaves dancing?); no matter how pedestrian. Yes, it’s a little weird talking to a one-week-old baby, but I can assure you that he listens and often responds with raised eyebrows or turns his head towards the sound. Later, when she responds loudly and with spitting bubbles, respect this as her language and treat it as “real” dialogue, complete with questions and facial expressions. Gargling conversations are wonderful for self-esteem and social skills.
As Joshua gets older, we use more emotional language (I’m sad today because I miss Nanna). Not only does this give her a vital vocabulary that has saved her from a tantrum more than once (after all, if you can explain how you feel, you usually don’t need to demonstrate), it also shows her that adults feel the same way. he does and it builds trust.
Parentese vs Boffinese
Before I became a parent, one of my (many) theories was that I would NEVER use the gross baby talk I heard from other parents. No icchy-icchy coo-coos in our cultured home, thank you very much. Much to my confusion and shock, a sly new tongue escaped my mouth the moment I held Joshua in my arms. I called him before we left the clinic. Well, that theory goes (probably to the same graveyard where my theories are now kept without the dolls or the Panado). My feeling is that parenterese, as it is euphemistically called, is a soothing combination of sounds, for both parent and child. It will also be a very personalized way to bond, as many words will come up spontaneously and be unique to your home.
Still, from the beginning we talked to Joshua the way we talked to each other—for example, we never changed “porridge” to “number-number” or “penis” to “wee-wee.” They are best absorbed when they are young, and the real word is no more difficult to learn than any other. Yet you don’t need to try to raise the standard of speech to make your child smart (whatever “smart” means). It won’t be easy or fun, and anyway, kids are like sniffers for authenticity. Simply include them in the family conversation with genuine respect.
The sound of music
Garrick and I often joked that since we had kids, our house had turned into a musical. We sang EVERYTHING (The potty, the potty, a fun place; the potty, the potty, made for the little ones). While you may lose some of your more sophisticated friends or perfect neighbors, your children will be singing along to better remember the words and have a good sense of the rhythm and rhyme of the language. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll see their parents being a bit goofy and having fun, which makes them feel like they want to be on the same team as you and, you guessed it, speak the same language.
The absurdity of the wording
This brings me to the point of making language fun. Helping children speak is not a chore, nor is it a competitive exercise. If you have such a hidden attitude, those little sniffer dogs will find it and reflect back in some creative, frustrating way. It’s a joy to discover the language and make it your own, to show them how you approach words. I mentioned singing, but the same goes for making up silly poems and nonsensical rhymes (Here’s the mash, so it doesn’t hit your eyelashes!) or deliberate misunderstanding (What’s at the end of your foot, isn’t your nose?). Kids LOVE to be a little absurd, and they learn more easily from adults who can be a little absurd.
Encourage expression, not perfection
This may be a bit rich of me (linguistic pedant and after graduation from literature), but the goal of learning a language is not to develop perfect grammar, but to be able to express yourself accurately and magnificently. It doesn’t matter if the little one breathlessly tells you that he got on a big train and ate a sanrich. Wow! He shares his life and thoughts with you, which is a sacred thing, and you probably wish he would do more when he gets older. A respectful response to this is to match and reflect your excitement WITHOUT CORRECTIONS and simply restate your sentence in more grammatically correct words: “Joshua says he got on a train and ate a sandwich, wow! I can see you are very excited. The more confident children are in speaking, the more they usually speak.
This morning we had breakfast at an open air restaurant and as usual chatted with Joshua about the names of things around us. When we pointed to a shadowy umbrella covering our table, he said it was a kite. The automatic response to this is “No dear, that’s not a kite, that’s an umbrella”. Harmless enough, but deadly. I’m sure any parent knows the power of sentences that start with the word “no” (shut the ears, defiance, tantrums if you’re lucky, withdrawal or shame if you’re not), but there’s more to it than that. a reasoning process for your child’s answers that demands respect. When I observed the umbrella, I noticed that it was made up of a few placed wooden posts with the material pulled tightly over them – exactly like a kite! Instead of discouraging Joshua, we praised him for spotting this similarity so he walked away with his appreciation intact, plus two new words and, more importantly, some ability to associate and compare. Likewise, instead of saying, “No, honey, that’s not grandma,” say, “Yes, I understand why you think she’s grandma, she has the same hair color! Glad you noticed. Well, how can you tell she’s not actually a granny? I’d go so far as to say that when it comes to everyday conversation with your child, it’s never helpful to say “no” (unless, of course, you really want them to stop talking!)
I have never consciously or conscientiously sat down with Joshua to work on his word usage (can you imagine anything more boring than that?). Instead, I just use the possibilities of our everyday conversations to come up with new, more complicated words. I always “synonymize”! “See those people on the bus, love?” How many passengers are there on that bus? Where do you think all the passengers on that bus are going? Without being a ‘teacher’, this connects ‘bus passengers’ with ‘passengers’ and ‘travellers’ in his thoughts. And it was also great for stretching my own mental muscles.
Q and A
We try not to answer questions for Joshua that he could answer himself. So if you say “what’s in that pot, mom?” I don’t tell him, but instead pick up the pot and say, “What do you see in that pot? It helps him find words in his mind and is fantastic for imagination (apparently we’ve cooked elephant many times). “Where are those people going, Dad?” ‘Where do you think those workers can travel to my son?’ Also, be aware that this technique occasionally fails. When we’re tired, sick, or tired, we do everything we can to (a) speed up the journey to bed (b) create peace and quiet and/or (c) keep us sane. . This is also allowed.
If you have a particularly active child who can’t sit still for half an hour, the way I bounce around on one leg for half an hour, it can be challenging to spend the right amount of time doing something (like reading or talking). ), which develop vocabulary. From this point of view, we recognized the value of bath time. Up to a certain age, children are considered an engaged audience in the bath, and so it is easier to follow a story or learn a song because there is no chance to run, climb, jump or climb! Consider bathing as a special opportunity for your child’s language development. From a very young age, we sang two nursery rhymes to Joshua every night in the bath (Twinkle, Twinkle and Incy Wincy Spider) with actions, funny accents and comical expressions. After about the millionth repetition (or so it seemed) she started imitating us, not necessarily with words (she was only 6 months old) but with some basic movements and sounds. Since then – fortunately – our repertoire has expanded, but we still spend most of our time in the bath singing or making up fairy tales. If more than one adult is in the car at the same time, the same is true when your child is secured in the car seat.
In essence, encouraging a love of language in a child is more important than developing actual skills. The basic recipe for this – as is usually the case with children – is empowerment and respect based on liberal entertainment. Point.
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