Seeing as two out of my three 2014 blog entries relate more to parents, I decided to make this week’s blog entry totally about children. So I’ve chosen one of my favourite topics – the type of language to use with your children that will best encourage their holistic progression, and thus already begin to equip them for future success.
The reason that I’m particularly passionate about this topic is because so often I hear children being spoken to in a really babyish way; whether this is the tone of voice, or words being used – it makes me cringe because I know exactly how switch on children really are. To give you a few example of what I mean; I’ve often heard parents say, “Shall we go a feed the quack quacks?” – They’re not called quack quacks, they are called ducks! Very little children will often say the sound the animal makes before they can actually say the name of the animal. So what I would recommend to say here is; “Yes that’s the sound they make and they’re called ducks”. This way you are reinforcing exactly what the child was right about, whilst still also positively providing them with the correct information. So there is no need to say anything negative, and you are helping your child to learn the correct language quicker and without any pressure. Think about it – how else will the child learn to say “duck” if it’s never role-modelled to them?
I’ve also heard children being spoken to in a cringingly babyish voice tone. They may be miniature – they are still intelligent human-beings. If you think about it, using a very babyish voice tone is actually speaking down to children because; how would you feel if someone spoke to you in the same tone? Does it make it acceptable to speak to them like that purely because they’re babies/ young children? As an Expert I say definitely not! With very young babies it ok to speak more slowly and clearly with a slightly higher intonation, as this enable them to hear you more clearly. Otherwise just speak in a slightly slower, clearer way than you would normally, (if you’re a quick talker like I can be!) so the child can hear as much of what you are saying as possible and see how you move your mouth etc. to say it. Think about it for a second, If you always use a babyish tone, then it will take the child much longer to first of all hear exactly what you are saying (believe me, the most babyish voice tone I’ve heard, I could barely understand what was being said myself!). Second of all, when the tone is always the same it’s harder for the child to understand what you mean. The way babies and young children actually learn language is through observing your body language and facial expression when you are speaking to them. Plus also differentiating voice tone help give clues to the meaning of what you are saying. Can you see how it makes it much more difficult if the child is continuously spoken to in the same babyishly unclear tone? Hence you are actually slowing their developmental progress not only linguistically, also intellectually and socially too. This is because to progress more quickly in these areas you need good communication skills.
I’m actually going to give a few examples of the type of language I use with children as I think it would very beneficial to highlight exactly how bright and able babies, toddlers and young children can be. Please note that I am going to change the names of the children in the examples to ensure strict confidentiality.
Bella aged 4.5 at the time, was looking at a book on dinosaurs. I asked her what the name was of the dinosaur she was looking at. She replied in perfect pronunciation; “A Carcharodontosaurus” – no word of a lie! For anyone who does know, carcharodontosaurus means “shark-tooth” and it was a predatory dinosaur that grew up to “43 feet” and weighted up to “15 metric tons”. It existed “between 100 and 93 million years ago, during the mid-Cretaceous Period.” (Info derived from Wikipedia). Bella knew that carcharodontosaurus meant shark-tooth. Now how could she have learnt this if adults around her had decided it was too advanced for her and therefore simplified everything? She is actually very popular with both girls and boys at school because she comes out with a lot of interesting facts. Being someone interested in nature and culture myself, I’ve had many conversations with Bella about very interesting facts. Hence, helping her to become very articulate and get ahead both socially and intellectually.
William, aged 5 years recently told me that “concentrate” is another word for “focus”. He has observed to me the types of activities that require good focus. In addition to William being a very articulate child, he is also learning vocabulary that will subconsciously set him up for success. Any high achiever will tell you that being successful requires dedication and focus. Well William is already learning the importance of good focus without even realising it!!
Emily aged 2.5 years was having a bit of a wobbly after being told “no” to something. After ensuring she was safe and couldn’t hurt herself I informed her that I was just going to get something done (NB in the same room – I didn’t obviously leave her). After a few minutes I said to her; “You’re not happy are you whilst you’re making such a fuss?” She agreed with me that she was presently not feeling happy. Then I put to her; “That doesn’t seem like a sensible choice to choose to be unhappy. Why don’t you make a choice to do something that makes you feel happy?” Emily stopped fussing and looked at me curiously. She then said; “Oh yes” and went to get out the play-dough, (NB kept at her level). Very soon into doing play-dough Emily informed me that she was feeling happy. Now who would have thought about speaking to a 2.5 year old in such a grown-up manner? The vast majority of people would see this as way to advanced for a child this young. I prefer to “test” and see exactly how intelligent they are. Please note here that if you make sure you really “know” the child – you know what they’re likely to be capable of understanding. Something resonated with Emily and she appeared to realise that it was her own choice causing her to be unhappy, thus she made a different choice! This is extremely valuable to encourage children to realise that you actually have a choice, even when you think you don’t. The most holistically successful people will tell you that even in their lowest ebb, they would ensure to still exercise their power of choice (NB One of the most important times to ensure you are in the driver seat is when things aren’t going so well!). Emily has helped me to learn that even very young children can begin to grasp this concept.
Just to mention briefly a bit about multi-lingual children. Marie was between 12 and 24 months when I worked with her. Her mother spoke to her in French, her father spoke to her in German and I spoke to her in English. I spoke to her all the time about what was going on around her. Told her the names, shapes and colours of things, (NB the lady who ran the local music group was impressed at how she knew all her colours by 21 months). I also read lots of books. When her attention initially appeared to wane, I just red with increased expression and her focus would naturally return. Marie could focus very well and had an unusually long attention span when listening to books and stories read by me. I believe this developed as a result of reading stories in an expressive way that captured her interest. – I didn’t just give up and decide she was too young. I found a way of captivating her interest. Three guesses which language she was best at when I worked with her?! So even multi-lingual children are able to pick up language much more easily and quicker despite having more than one language to learn!
One final interesting point I would like to include; please do not use “ta” with little ones! To me it doesn’t make sense to teach “ta” when they’re very little and “thank-you” when you feel they’re old enough to cope with it. If you think about it, this doesn’t show any faith in your expectations of their capabilities. The way children learn to believe in themselves is through their parents demonstrating belief in them. I’ve always used “thank-you” with every child I’ve worked with. Emily, at 18 months was able to say; “thank-yoooou” (sweet!). Also Marie at a similar age said; “Tagoo” (very endearing!). This was their version of “Thank-you” and I always role-modelled the correct English back to them. It is also very important if you go to baby signing classes to always role-model the correct spoken language whilst using signing. If a 4.5 year old can learn, “Carcharodontosaurus”, a younger toddler is capable of learning “Thank-you”! Emily and Marie have definitely proven that to me. Plus Marie also had to learn “Merci” and “Dankeschön”.
This all demonstrates that it’s essentially all down to the quality of the language spoken to the child. If you speak to children babyishly, or in grammatically poor sentences, then this what they’ll learn. Whereas, if you speak to them clearly, using the correct terminology, not only will they learn language faster and more easily, you also set them up to get ahead both intellectually and socially too. So please, see what great conversations you can have with your little one(s). Also finally please note, if you have a child who doesn’t speak so quickly, if they have no hearing problems, it may be because they do not yet have the vocabulary to say what’s in their mind. Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4!