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A Little Chat Goes a Long Way
Parenting Feature Story

A Little Chat Goes a Long Way
Conversing with kids promotes speech and language development

A Little Chat Goes a Long Way(HealthDay News) -- Listening to an adult read or speak may help a youngster acquire language, but apparently it's not as enriching as engaging in actual conversation.

A two-way exchange between adult and child, researchers have found, is six times more effective than adult speech input alone.

"The child speaking is a big part of what drives language development," Frederick Zimmerman, an associate professor in the school of public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, told HealthDay. "The more the child speaks, it reinforces their knowledge."

Television's role in language development, by contrast, was found to be neither helpful nor detrimental -- as long as it didn't displace conversation, the study showed.

Zimmerman's study, which involved 275 families of infants and toddlers, examined factors in the home language environment that contribute to language development.

The first three years of life represent the most intense period for speech and language development, according to the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The journey begins in the first days after a child's birth, when an infant learns that crying can bring food and comfort.

By 18 months, most toddlers can say eight to 10 words, the institute reports. By 2 years of age, most kids are cobbling together crude, two-word sentences.

A child's vocabulary ramps up at ages 3, 4 and 5 as he or she masters the rules of language, it says.

Delayed speech or language development is the most common developmental problem, affecting 5 to 10 percent of preschool kids, according to University of Michigan Health System experts.

For some children, the problem is related to a hearing difficulty, low intelligence, lack of verbal stimulation at home or a family history of speech delays, reports HealthyChildren.org, a service of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In other cases, the cause is unknown.

Experts say that if your child is a late talker, it's worth seeking an evaluation by a health professional because the earlier help is given, the greater progress the youngster can achieve and the less the problem will interfere with other areas of learning.

To help with a child's speech and language, the University of Michigan also recommends that parents:

  • Talk to your child at birth and respond to the baby's coos and babbling.
  • Listen when a child talks to you. And give the child time to respond.
  • Encourage storytelling and information-sharing.
  • Play with your child, and talk about the games you're playing and the toys you're playing with.
  • Read books aloud or just talk about the pictures.
  • Ask your child lots of questions.
  • Answer every time your child speaks to you. This rewards the child for talking.
  • Have your child play with children whose language is a little better than his or hers.

And one final tip: Shut off the television. Researchers at the Seattle Children's Research Institute found that young children and their caregivers vocalized less, used fewer words and had fewer conversations when the television was audible.

On the Web

To learn more about parent-child conversations, visit the Center for Early Literacy Learning.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Frederick J. Zimmerman, Ph.D., chairman and associate professor, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles; July 2009, Pediatrics; UCLA, news release, June 29, 2009; Seattle Children's Research Institute, news release, June 1, 2009; U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (www.nidcd.nih.gov); American Academy of Pediatrics (www.healthychildren.org)

Author: Karen Pallarito

Publication Date: July 31, 2010


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