Quality of words

Posted by on Oct 19, 2014 in General |

I read in today’s NY Times an article entitle “Quality of Words, Not Quantity” Is Crucial to Language Skills, Study Finds” that researchers have determined that the greatest predictor of competence in child language is not the number of words the child has been exposed to but rather the quality of the conversation. It was always assumed that children from low income families were exposed to at least 3 million words less than children from middle class families.

To quote Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple University and lead author of the study, “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects. A current study found that the use of shared symbols “Look, a dog” or “Want a bottle with your bath?” is more effective even with children from low income families than strictly exposing children to the maximum number of words.

When I advise parents of young children who have speech delay how to model for their children, I always recommend that they label the object, talk about what they are doing and expand on what the child has said. So for example, if the child says, “want cookie” the adult can expand by saying, “Oh, you want that chocolate chip cookie that’s on the counter”. Most middle class parents will instinctively do this and use what is called “parentese” (formerly called “motherese”) speech. Parents will automatically slow their speech down and speak with more variability in their expressions. All of this contributes to the child’s acquisition of language.