By Dr. Bob Titzer
The quantity of words spoken to your child is extremely important for learning receptive language. The more words your child hears in the first three years of life, the more likely your child will have a larger vocabulary at age 111. This article is focused on the quality of these verbal interactions. It is important for your baby to have both a high quality and a high quantity to learn language skills. Start by talking to your newborn baby in a loving, joyful manner and use the tips below to help your baby learn to understand your language(s).
- Use “parentese” when talking with your baby. Parentese means speaking in a higher pitched voice, elongating the vowel sounds, and slightly over-enunciating words. Babies prefer higher pitched voices. By over-enunciating, you make it easier for your baby to differentiate spoken words.
- Talk about all of your child’s senses. Narrate or describe what your child is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.
- Think of movement as a sense and describe how your child is moving.
- Teach prepositions by using these techniques: 1) use familiar objects or body parts, 2) review the nouns that will be used to teach the prepositions, 3) teach the same prepositions using many different objects and body parts, 4) teach different prepositions using the same objects, and 5) teach from the child’s perspective. For example, to teach the prepositions ‘above,’ ‘below,’ and ‘on’ you could do the following:
- Say “This is a book.” while showing your baby a book.
- Say “This is a table.” while pointing to a table that is clear of items.
- Say “This is a phone.” while showing your baby a phone.
- Say “The book is above the table.” while holding the book above the table. Stress the words ‘book’ and ‘above’ appropriately by focusing on the book while saying book and by demonstrating the meaning of the word ‘above’ when you say it.
- Say “Now, the phone is above the table.” while showing the phone above the table.
- Say “Now the phone is above the book.” and demonstrate by holding the phone above the book.
- Say “Look, now the book is above the phone.” while you move the book above the phone.
- Say “The book is above the table. Now the book is below the table.” while you act that out.
- Say “The phone is above the table. “The phone is on the table. The phone is below the table.” and act out the words.
- Say “The book is above the phone. Now the phone is above the book. Now the phone is on the book.” while acting it out.
- Go at a fast pace. The entire above sentences should not take much more than a minute or so. You can give more examples using one body part and one familiar object and you can also demonstrate more prepositions. For example, you could act out and say “This is a hat. This is my head. The hat is above my head. Now the hat is on my head. Look, the hat is below my head.”
Teach your child most prepositions using the above strategies.
- Use synonyms and words with similar meanings appropriately. Instead of saying the word “little” you could say: small, tiny, wee, miniscule, petite, minute, diminutive, slight, and so on.
- Use proper grammar in front of your children and they will naturally learn proper grammar. When I was not sure about the use of a word, I looked it up. This helped my children learn proper grammar before they entered school.
- Teach opposites. Use the same types of strategies that were used when teaching prepositions and give many different examples.
- After your child has learned the nouns, use pronouns when speaking. For example, many parents get into the habit of saying “Mommy” or “Daddy” instead of saying “I,” “she,” “he,” and so on.
- Name most of the objects in your home.
- Name objects when shopping – this is an especially great time to learn language skills because you may see many different examples of the same types of objects.
- Identify objects and categorizes of objects while you are shopping, taking walks, traveling, or playing with your baby.
- Do actions with your baby or toddler and talk about what you are doing.
- Check out hundreds of books from the library every month.
- Read many different books. Use and explain the words in the books.
- Reading to a child is a great way to help the child learn new words because there are more infrequently used words in children’s literature than there are in the average adult conversation.
- When talking to your baby or toddler, intentionally use and explain the meanings of novel words.
- Please read the tips on how to teach reading while using books. Reading to a child typically helps the child’s vocabulary, but you can use some books to also teach reading.
- You are giving your children your vocabulary, so use many words when speaking with your child. You want to use words that you may not use in everyday speech. One way of doing this is using picture dictionaries. Once babies have learned around 50 words, use a great vocabulary with your children and they will learn new words quickly. Using picture dictionaries or any other tools is a way to help you teach your children novel words or words that are infrequently used.
- Have fun categorizing many objects with your baby or toddler. Categorize the same words different ways. Talk about what you are doing as you are doing it.
- Use proper grammar around your children. I remember looking up irregular verbs to ensure that I used English properly. I didn’t want my children to have to think about grammar. Instead, I wanted it to be easy and natural for them. The way to do that is to use proper grammar when speaking with your babies and toddlers.
- Speak in complex sentences some of the time. The following is an example of a complex sentence and it also gets the point across about why you want to use complex sentences:
Children who are in households where complex sentences are spoken have little difficulty understanding complex sentences; however, children in homes where complex sentences are rarely spoken have difficulty using or understanding complex sentences.