The Quality and Quantity of Speech

in Early Childhood in the News

mom and child“What factors at home affect how wordy children’s brains are in their early years?”

Amina Khan, in her Los Angeles Times article, “Want Your Kids to Learn More Words? Use Your Hands, Study Says,” reports on a new study for parents of little ones.

Researchers have known that interactive talk with children is necessary for early language learning. But this study from the National Academy of Sciences, adds another factor—the use of nonverbal communication. Scientists at the Universities of Chicago, Pennsylvania & Drexel, said nonverbal cues are critical to a child’s understanding of a word.

Their study involved videotaping parents as they interacted and talked with their toddlers during private recording sessions. One parent group used nonverbal communication, i.e. pointing, hand gestures, and social cues, such as smiling, while talking to their children. Another parent group talked with their toddlers without any such nonverbal cues.

Scientists analyzed the recordings and summarized each toddler’s word recognition.

“They found big differences between the kids whose parents had used better nonverbal cues when they spoke.” Taken together, the quality and quantity of parents’ verbal input increased children’s listening vocabularies by 22%.

So, what’s the point?

Parents who talk to their children and point to real objects, pore over pictures in storybooks, and use facial expressions in conversation, increase their child’s language abilities and eventual academic success.

In fact, studies on the effects of parent-child interaction on language production all say the same thing: parents talking and reading to their toddlers, playing with trucks and dolls, and making toy sounds are critical ingredients for their child’s language learning. There is no substitute for a parent’s attention and time.

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