A new study suggests talking to babies and toddlers in full sentences is the best way to boost language development.
The study, conducted by Stanford University Associate Professor Anne Fernald, showed that children whose parents talked to them, rather than at them, developed better language skills at a younger age. Children who were exposed to child-directed language were better at learning language and acquired a bigger vocabulary over time than those who had adults talking around them, Fernald found.
Fernald studied low-income children learning to speak Spanish.
Fernald’s research bolstered what researchers have said for years – that some children lag behind others in language development because of their socio-economic status. Researchers were able to observe a language gap between wealthy and lower income children by the time a child was just 18 months old. By age 2, that gap was six months; by age 5, lower-income children were two years behind their wealthier peers in language development.
“What’s most exciting is that by 24 months the children of more engaged moms are developing bigger vocabularies and processing spoken language more efficiently,” Fernald said in a statement. “Our goal is to help parents understand that by starting in infancy, they can play a role in changing their children’s life trajectories.”
Based on her findings, Fernald developed a program that encourages Spanish-speaking mothers to interact verbally with their children and track the effectiveness.
Here are some tips for talking to babies and toddlers:
- Babies and toddlers benefit most from language that’s directed to them. Have a conversation with your baby. Rather than say, “This orange is round,” say: “Let’s put this round orange in a brown bowl with green grapes and yellow bananas.”
- “Baby talk” – that sing-song way we have of talking to little ones – gets children’s attention. But don’t make it too simple. Use that tone with longer sentences with rich vocabulary.
- Make connections rather than label items. Instead of, “Look at the bunny in the yard,” say: “Look at the bunny’s brown fur. The bunny’s fur is fluffier than the cat’s.”
- Turn off the TV. Personal interaction is far more effective in promoting brain development than television.
- Read together. Even 10 or 15 minutes a day builds up over time. Not comfortable reading? Describe the pictures and talk about what’s going on in them.
- Make conversation a part of everyday activities. Talk about things in the kitchen as you are making lunch, rather than turning on the radio or television.