Language learning can never start too early. In fact, young children start babbling at about 6 months, and can be uttering their first words by the time they are 1 year old. Their vocabulary really begins to burst from 18 months to 22 months. During this period, they are able to comprehend around 50 to 300 words.
As babies begin vocalizing, parents can have a large impact on their child’s language development with very simple strategies. These basic steps can make a great contribution to children’s vocabulary enlargement. Research has shown that early language learning can lead to better preparedness for school, both academically and behaviorally. For parents who frequently engage in daily conversations with their children as early as 12 months old, their children gain a vocabulary advantage even at 18 months old. If parents can seize the chance at the first vocabulary burst period (18 months to 22 months), and talk to their children as much as possible, the advantage children obtain at such a young age can last a long time.
Now the question is: how do parents talk to their young children to improve their language learning development? Here, are a few suggestions curated from early childhood education researchers and our own backgrounds as educators here at Woobo.
First, giving a lot of child-directed speech, speaking longer sentences, and using complex vocabularies. Child-directed speech refers to high-pitched words rendered in exaggerated manner, which usually targets young children. Parents talking to adults with children on the sidelines barely counts as a way to help children with vocabulary growth. It is the diverse words that are spoken to young children, along with long sentences that can greatly benefit young children’s language learning.
Second, speaking with fewer directive utterances and asking more conversation-eliciting questions. Directive utterances are words that parents use to give moral guidance or instructions for conduct, which are usually short and repetitive. Even though they are efficient in controlling behavior, these types of sentences limit a child’s chance to hear more complex sentences. Although behavior is important, a great way to offset these directive sentences is by asking questions to children, encouraging them to discuss what happen during their day, and issues they are facing at home or at daycare or school, even if they are small, insignificant ones. This environment provides a natural place for children to practice the words they are constantly acquiring.
Third, by using ‘object labeling’ during reading time with your child. Object-labeling is essentially actively pointing out similarities and categories between physical things. For instance, a golden retriever is a dog, that is a mammal, who is an animal that descended from wolves. These types of associations can spark deeper imaginative play in children and assist in learning things like creative writing skills. Word association games are a very simple example of this object-labeling type of learning that can easily be done while driving in the car, shopping at the grocery store, or watching TV.
Fourth, children’s vocabulary development can be improved by using gestures. Gestures can communicate broader meanings when children do not have a well-developed vocabulary library. Parents use gestures to help children understand words they do not know or have been exposed to in context of a story or game. Children pick up these visual cues very easily, which in turns helps them make associations between the meaning of the word and the gesture.
Check out this great article about early language learning written by the educators at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
While a parent’s impact on their child’s language learning is the clearly the most impactful, Woobo can assist with developing vocabulary and language learning. We are creating the first truly child-focused artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology to carefully answer and respond to a child’s voice, allowing children to speak to Woobo throughout the day so children always have someone to talk to on those hectic days for parents. Our technology, combined with educational content that is designed to encourage children to share their feelings, narrate daily activities, and ask questions about the world around them, is a truly unique way for a toy to supercharge the hard work parents already doing to develop their child’s vocabulary.
Language learning occurs throughout a child’s life. The more intentional parents, family members, and educators are in speaking with our children in ways to grow their vocabulary, we will see quick results in the number and complexity of words children can understand.
Susana Zhang, our Content/Marketing Specialist here at Woobo authored this post. Susana’s background is in psychology, previously earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and more recently earning her Master’s degree in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education in Human Development and Psychology. She is also actively working with our software and hardware team to help build out Woobo’s natural language processing technology.
Rowe, M. L., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2009). Differences in early gesture explain SES disparities in child vocabulary size at school entry. Science, 323(5916), 951-953.
Bornstein, M. H., & Bradley, R. H. (Eds.). (2014). Socioeconomic status, parenting, and child development. Routledge.
Rowe, M. L. (2008). Child-directed speech: relation to socioeconomic status, knowledge of child development and child vocabulary skill. Journal of child language, 35(01), 185-205.
Keil, F. C. (2013). Developmental psychology: The growth of mind and behavior. W W Norton & Company Incorporated.