Have you wondered why we, the female of the species talk so much? Well, there is an evolutionary reason for this, the human baby needs the stimulus of language to connect the neurons in the brain. The window for language development is in the first few years and since the mother is the primary caregiver in most cultures it is important that the mother uses the power of her voice and language to stimulate the brain of her child. The sound of a mother’s voice is naturally higher pitched than that of the father and the new born baby’s ears are more responsive to this high pitched voice called ‘motherese’. It is no wonder that babies naturally respond to females more than males.
But it’s not just about talk, talk, talk but there is a science behind the talking that mothers need to implement. We need to nurture two different types of language skills in young babies, Receptive and Expressive language skills.
Therefore, what the child hears or what is spoken to the child are receptive language skills and what a child speaks are expressive language skills.
Where receptive language skills are concerned, the rule to remember is- the more the merrier. Talk and kids love to listen. But avoid baby talk as kids learn by imitation. Where expressive language skills are concerned, kids will talk when they are ready, don’t correct their grammar or pronunciation, this will discourage and frustrate them. Instead, repeat the sentence with the correct grammar and pronunciation. So if your child says, ‘mummy, potty’, you can say, ‘baby wants to go to the potty’.
It is imperative that mothers focus on the stimulation of both expressive and receptive language in daily interactions with kids. Here are a variety of language-stimulation techniques that will support receptive and expressive language skills development. These techniques are, description, parallel talk, self-talk, expansion and expansion plus.
Description is a technique in which the mother or caregiver narrates or describes what is going on by putting world labels on things. For example, if a mother is putting on a nappy on the baby, then she will say, “You are going to be cozy in this nappy. Mummy is making you wear the nappy so that you are dry and comfortable”. Or while bathing a baby you can describe all the steps as they occur.
The parallel talk usually begins with “You.” In parallel talk a mother uses a short sentence that focuses on what the child is doing presently. For example, “You’re playing with the sand in the sand pit.” or “you are now drinking water from your sipper” is parallel talk. Since the mother is focusing on specific actions of the child it helps the child to put word labels to actions and objects and to connect the two and make sentences.
Self-talk begins with ‘I’. During self-talk a mother uses short phrases that describe what a mother or care giver is doing or is going to do. For example, a mother might say this during meal time, “I am going to take the peas on this spoon and help you eat them.’ Self-talk is especially important in the early years as young children like routine and if there is anything that deviates from that routine it tends to upset them. So self- talk kind of helps a parent or caregiver prepare the child. It is especially important during activities like bath time or sleep time when tantrums are common. A mother can say, “I am going to ask you to keep your blocks away in 10 minutes, so that we can get ready for meal time.”
Expansion and Expansion Plus
As children’s vocabularies grow, we notice that they tend to use a word to signify a whole sentence or use incomplete sentences. This is where Expansion and Expansion Plus are important techniques to be used by the parent or care giver. In expansion the mother takes what the child has said and expands on it, for example if the child says ‘blocks’ the mother expands and says, ‘Do you want to play with those blocks?’ In expansion plus the mother or caregiver adds to what the child has already said, so for example, the child says, ‘look crow’, the teacher or care giver uses expansion plus and says, ‘Yes, that is a crow and look, it is black in colour’. Expansion and expansion plus help children put their thoughts and needs in sentences.
Language is a skill which is learnt by imitation. How did you learn your mother tongue? You listened to the people in your environment, then you imitated and were motivated by others and so language development took place. You made mistakes and that’s how your mother tongue was learnt. No grammar is taught separately, no teaching of nouns and verbs separately, no sentences given to turn into active and passive. You lived, experienced and heard the language every day. That is the best way to learn any language. So let’s talk, talk, and talk to our kids.
Dr. Swati Popat Vats
Parenting Mentor and Coach