Encourage speech and vo­cab­u­lary devel­op­ment

It is never too early to be­gin de­vel­op­ing your child’s vo­cab­u­lary. In­cor­po­rate a few sim­ple prac­tices to make a daily con­tri­bu­tion to the speech and lan­guage that will be­come their strengths as they grow


As most of you are aware, chil­dren set off on the road to vo­cab­u­lary devel­op­ment long be­fore they ac­tu­ally ut­ter their first words and sen­tences. Se­lec­tive ex­po­sure is com­mon: older chil­dren or foul-mouthed adults of­ten get hissed at; ‘Shh! don’t say that in front of the baby’, for fear that ex­ple­tives will be among the first words that the child picks up. But wouldn’t it make sense to also prac­tice the same in re­verse, that is to say, en­sure that the baby or tod­dler hears cer­tain words or sen­tences in or­der for them to pick those up?

Abha Me­hta, co-founder, PodSquad, says, “80 per cent of a child’s brain devel­op­ment takes place by the time the child is five years old. And at that early age, chil­dren are al­ways learn­ing. They are ob­serv­ing, discovering and ex­per­i­ment­ing. They ab­sorb new words, new con­nec­tions and new con­cepts like sponges. Be­tween ages one and two, you’ll

find they re­peat ev­ery­thing they hear. At this age, they also start recog­nis­ing phys­i­cal objects and peo­ple. It’s the best time to start them off on new words and start build­ing their vo­cab­u­lary.”

But how do you get your one-yearold to build his vo­cab­u­lary? Well, like ev­ery­thing else; its all on you at the mo­ment but in­ter­est­ingly, the tools that will help you de­velop your child’s vo­cab­u­lary also dou­ble up as great paci­fiers and dis­trac­tions.

Moral of the story

Abha rec­om­mends read­ing to your chil­dren. “Read a lot to chil­dren. Show them pic­tures and en­gage with them,” she says, adding that a great way to in­cor­po­rate this is to read them a bed­time story. Story time is when chil­dren are most en­gaged, lis­ten­ing with rapt at­ten­tion and there­fore a new word will drive more cu­rios­ity and in­ter­est than at most other times. World­wide, re­searchers are emerg­ing with in­creas­ing proof that read­ing to chil­dren con­trib­utes far more to their lin­guis­tic prow­ess in the long term, than even talk­ing to them. Do­minic Mas­saro, a pro­fes­sor in psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia told a Cal­i­for­nia-based web­site that although par­ents can build their chil­dren’s vo­cab­u­lary by talk­ing to them, read­ing to them is more ef­fec­tive, es­pe­cially be­cause we speak in what he calls a ‘lazy tongue’, mean­ing that we would use a pro­noun or ges­ture or point at some­thing, thus re­ly­ing heav­ily on con­text to com­mu­ni­cate. An­other in­ter­est­ing nugget of in­for­ma­tion in Mas­saro’s study was the fact that for par­ents who strug­gle with gram­mar them­selves, read­ing to chil­dren could ef­fec­tively bridge the gap.

While read­ing to a one-year-old will do the trick, at ages two to three, it be­comes im­por­tant to in­volve the child in the read­ing process. “Be­tween two and three, chil­dren start to make con­crete as­so­ci­a­tions with ab­stract things. They be­gin to recog­nise con­nec­tions and num­bers, shapes, colours, sizes. Af­ter three comes writ­ten word recog­ni­tion and they be­gin to as­so­ciate the

writ­ten word with objects. By five, they are ready to start read­ing on their own. This is the time to in­tro­duce them to formal read­ing – the con­cept of sight word and phon­ics,” says Abha. For this stage, most ex­perts rec­om­mend pic­ture books. Mas­saro’s study ad­di­tion­ally noted that less dec­o­ra­tive, larger fonts (in other words, more eas­ily recog­nis­able for a child) are likely to help the child read the words and as­so­ciate them with the pic­tures.

Words can be child’s play

Abha rec­om­mends in­vent­ing games in­volv­ing words and de­scrip­tions such as I Spy or else singing sto­ries and ac­tion songs that in­tro­duce them to new words and con­cepts. Most games should be three di­men­sional and real at this time. As far as pos­si­ble, show them real objects or pic­tures of objects in books when it is not pos­si­ble to show them the real ob­ject, or al­ter­na­tively use de­scrip­tions. “Avoid dig­i­tal in­ter­ven­tion as much as pos­si­ble till they are three years or more, at least,” she cau­tions. Games can also be used to dis­tract or en­gage the child dur­ing chal­leng­ing mo­ments such as meal-time. In In­dia and abroad, there are many types of games that can be em­ployed to­wards the goal of word-recog­ni­tion and as­so­ci­a­tion. Some ex­am­ples that par­ents re­port suc­cess from in­clude Si­mon says, or Lit­tle Piggy rhymes (the ones which go “one piggy went to the foun­tain, one piggy stayed at home, one piggy went to the moun­tain, one piggy built a dome”) that in­clude new words ev­ery now and then.

Mind your lan­guage

It is not only foul lan­guage that chil­dren ab­sorb like a sponge. Ever won­der why chil­dren latch on to words like ‘fool’ and ‘stupid’ in a flash? Abha be­lieves it’s be­cause slang is easy on the tongue and there­fore picked up very eas­ily. And it doesn’t help that our own vo­cab­u­lary – which es­sen­tially form the child’s per­pet­ual back­ground mu­sic – is rid­dled with slang. “Ba­bies are al­ways lis­ten­ing and will re­peat words they find easy to pro­nounce. So they are more likely to pick up slang or cuss words, es­pe­cially if they hear them spo­ken of­ten,” she ex­plains.

In the event some­one blurts out a cuss word or slang, Abha rec­om­mends dis­tract­ing the child im­me­di­ately rather than con­fronting the sit­u­a­tion right away.

In the event that a slip-up oc­curs and the child does pick up a slang or a cuss word, most par­ents and par­ent­ing fo­rums agree that it is best to com­mu­ni­cate with the child and tell them that it is not a right word to use or that it is an adult word that he can­not use yet. Some fo­rums rec­om­mend that the par­ent ex­plain that it’s not an ac­cept­able word and they (ev­ery­one in the fam­ily) are all go­ing to try and not say that word again. It might have the un­ex­pected ben­e­fit of clean­ing up ev­ery­one else’s vo­cab­u­lary, too!

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