Let’s Talk

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Andrea Cooper

Let’s Talk

Parents are a child’s first and number one teacher.  Even before a baby is born, they are exposed to their parent’s voices, as they listen from the womb.  Recent research suggests that newborn babies can even tell the difference between their mother’s voice and the voice of others.  So, when it comes to a child learning to talk, it makes sense that parents play a major role, and it starts from birth.

The amount of talk is important!

It’s all about exposure!  It seems almost too simple to be true: To help your child learn to talk, you’ll need to….talk to your child. And yet as simple of a concept as it is, it’s also a very effective one.  So powerful, in fact, that it appears to have long-lasting effects on your child and their development.

A research study by Risley and Hart in 2006 found that the amount of “family talk” that surrounded a child was strongly related to that child’s vocabulary and their IQ at age three…and, importantly, still at age nine.

The type of talk has even greater importance than the amount!

Families in the study seemed to use two types of language; the “business” talk of telling children what needed to get done (“do this, come here, put that down”) and the more positive, engaging, conversational talk of describing the world to their children.  The families who used ‘conversational talk’ with their children, talked more to their children….and the children in these families had bigger vocabularies and higher IQ scores as a result.

We call this conversational talk LANGUAGE DANCING!

So we have two types of talk:

  • Directive Talk = ‘Business Talk’

This type of talk often stops and starts with one turn, it uses simple, straight forward language, and often is not very interesting or engaging to the child.

  • Talkative = ‘Language Dancing’

This type of talk explores and stays on the topic.  It includes asking questions, making comments, using longer words, longer sentences and takes several turns.

Why should we use Language Dancing?

When we are LANGUAGE DANCING, not only is the child more engaged, they are hearing more words because you are talking more!  It is about EXPOSURE!  The more dancing talk your child hears, the more likely they are to learn new words, and start to experiment to use these.  They need to understand how the word is used, before they can start using it themselves.

If you think about the type of talk your child’s educators use, you will notice they often use a sing song voice, they talk about what your child is doing or what they are focused upon.  The educators repeat your child’s words and sometimes expand on their sentences. These are all language dancing strategies, that help your child learn new words, and engage in conversation.

How do we add language dancing to our interactions with children?

When I am working as a speech pathologist, I almost always start by teaching families how to talk to their kids.  One of the first things I share with parents is how to use four specific types of “language dancing” with their child: parallel talk, description, self-talk,and expansion.

Parallel talk – occurs when a parent talks about what the child is doing (“Eating soup. You’re eating soup!”)  It is almost like you are the narrator of your child’s activities.

Description – occurs when a parent describes an object to which the child is attending (“Hot soup!”)  When using this technique explore different adjectives, such as; big, little, hot, cold, red, yellow, smelly, tiny, etc.

Self-Talk – occurs when a parent describes what the parent is doing as they do it. (Soup. Mummy’s eating soup. Eat Soup). Instead of narrating what your child is doing, you are narrating your own actions.

Expansion – occurs when a parent takes what the child says and expands it by one or two words. (Child: Soup. Mum: Yummy soup!).  Make sure you emphasise the new word and pause to provide your child an opportunity to try and copy the phrase.

Research has shown that a child’s language can change for the better just by changing the language exposure they get from their parents. This isn’t to say parents should talk in short sentences all the time, of course. Children need to hear their parents talking in longer, conversational sentences as well.  It’s the balance between the short, focused language and the longer conversational sentences that seems to be the most effective.

Routines are important and constant in your child’s daily life, your child needs to have breakfast, get dressed, brush their teeth, go to preschool, come home, have a bath, have dinner, and go to bed.  Often during these routines, we naturally use a lot of ‘business talk’.  You can make routines “language rich” for your child by using dancing talk to engage your child in conversation – for example, “Where should we put your socks? On your head or on your feet? On your head would look a bit funny wouldn’t it! Socks go on our feet!”

When you are talking to your child make sure you; SLOW down your speech, EMPHASISE the key words, FOCUS on what your child is interested in, and make your routines FUN!

Talk to your baby, your toddler, your child. Talk about the things that they see, and the things that they do, and the things that make them laugh.  And as you do, know that you are giving your child one of the most powerful gifts of all: the gift of language.

For more information about the study please click here.

Happy talking!