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!