Language is so much a part of who we are that we often overlook just how remarkable it really is. What’s especially remarkable is the amount of progress children make in language learning by the time they’re three years old.
Language starts early.
Babies are born wired to learn language. From the very beginning, the words they hear from their parents and caregivers affects their growing language skills. According to research, infants as young as 12 months are sensitive to grammar in sentences that deal with cause and effect – for example, the dog chased the cat.
If there is an overriding theme for early childhood development, it is this: successful children come from committed parents. That is truly the case when it comes to language development. Parents who create an environment rich in positive, affectionate language are helping to create a strong foundation for language skills as well as social and emotional development.
Every child needs a language-rich home environment.
Studies have shown that the size of a child’s vocabulary by her second birthday correlates with her future language skills. Parents who are serious about giving their children a strong language foundation begin working on it from the first days of their children’s lives.
It is common sense that parents who talk, read, and play with their children are making important, direct investments in their children’s ability to develop language skills: communications through interactions, responses to children’s signals, child-led play, book reading, music, and gestures and movements to show our emotions. Our “6 Tips for Boosting Your Baby’s Language Skills” is required reading for parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers.
Young children are dependent on parents to introduce them to the words and patterns of language. Unfortunately, home environments are not always optimal and not all children live in a language-rich setting. Children in higher socioeconomic families hear about 50 million words by the time they are four years old, about four times more than the number heard by children in low-income households. Low-income children also tend to hear more commands and negative statements, while parents in higher-income families tend to use more explanations and open-ended questions.
Help is available.
In other words, responsive and talkative parents are language facilitators for their children. The research is clear that children achieve higher levels of language skills when their lives are characterized by more parental input and involvement.
Our community has organizations that provide interventions, it has dedicated teachers willing to work with parents to make the greatest strides in language development, and it has nurturing health care professionals who can help. But it’s a job for all of us as citizens in a caring community. Through our neighborhood groups, faith-based institutions, and casual interactions, it’s our responsibility to make sure every parent is aware that help, if they need it, is readily available.