Today, we’ll focus on a function that is often simply taken for granted and therefore not given the kind of attention that it really deserves. That function is understanding of language. Imagine, a little baby is born with no understanding of sounds let alone speech, and yet in just three years that child learns a foreign language without ever setting foot in a classroom! Good understanding is critical to good cognitive/intellectual function and must precede good speech. So, there are a lot of reasons to pay attention to it.
Here are ten steps to get your child off to a great start.
1. Make sure that your child follows the mobility pathway as outlined in an earlier post. It is important to remember that learning, as opposed to education, is a neurological process. Sophisticated understanding of language, just like sophisticated movement, is a functional result of this process. As such it is dependent on good brain organization. The mobility process – crawling then creeping then walking – is the key to good brain organization.
2. Provide your child with a rich auditory environment. Toys that make sounds, pleasant music and the typical sounds of the household are just a few examples of this. Pay attention to how your child responds to sounds. You should see clear indications that your child can hear them. For example, your baby should startle if there is a sudden loud noise. Eventually your baby should turn towards sounds to locate them. At this point your child should find sounds interesting. If your child is unduly bothered by sounds or obsessed by sounds that should raise a red flag. If you have any concerns, seek help.
3. Talk, talk, talk to your child! This sounds like advice that would be self evident, but it is amazing how many parents talk about their children but not with them. Often parents will justify this by saying that the child doesn’t understand anyway. That’s correct…and it’s precisely the point! The way a child learns to understand is by hearing language – often. So talk away!
4. Speak with your child in a clear, enthusiastic, pleasant tone of voice. Most parents do this instinctively. Ever notice how your tone of voice becomes louder and… well, happier, when you talk to a baby? That’s because it’s a way of speaking that attracts more attention. That’s what you want.
5. When you speak use real language, not baby talk. Baby talk is precisely that – an immature effort to pronounce complex words. That’s fine for your child – he or she is still learning to speak. But it’s not OK for you. You know how to speak which is why you are so valuable as your child’s first and most influential teacher. So provide your child with correct information about language. That means a dog is not a “wow-wow”, it’s a dog.
6. When you speak give information and be descriptive. Children are sponges for information. They want to know about everything and they find everything equally fascinating. So don’t limit yourself or your child. Talk about everything and include the details.
7. As understanding develops include in your vocabulary words that relate to quantity, time and space. In order for children to learn these abstract concepts they need to hear the words that relate to them. So talk about big/small, near/far, now/later, etc. If you make a conscious effort to include vocabulary like this in your conversations, your child will pick up the ideas.
8. Read to your child! You can start as early as a few months of age. Reading is great for so many reasons. One thing that happens is that we tend to make an extra effort to speak clearly when we read to a child so the information about language is more precise. It’s also an excellent vehicle for increasing your child’s vocabulary and a wonderful opportunity to bond with your child. Finally, it’s just plain fun… and that’s what learning should be.
9. Trust that your child is learning, and avoid the temptation to be constantly testing. Most kids don’t really like it when they have to keep proving that they know where their nose is! There are plenty of subtle ways for you to figure out if your child knows something without putting him or her on the spot.
10. Relax, and enjoy the adventure!
Follow these simple steps and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your child’s understanding develops.