A while back I attended a library conference, and my favorite session was all about the latest research into how babies acquire language and literacy. Here are some cool takeaways that I learned:
1) Baby’s brains are great statisticians. Between the ages of 6-9 months, they listen to everything they hear around them, and are able to calculate what sounds are important to pay attention to in the language they are hearing. For example, is the difference between “r” and “l” important? Yes in English, no in Japanese.
2) Babies who grow up in language rich environments enter Kindergarten with four times the vocabulary of babies who grow up in language poor environments. Children who have a higher vocabulary will have an easier time learning how to read. And those children who grew up in language-poor environments *never* catch up in their reading ability.
3) Babies learn through interacting with people. Mom, dad, Aunt, Uncle, Grandparents, and every other person a baby spends time with, is a learning experience for baby. Television does not interact with babies, and even when babies look like they are fascinated with a television, they have found that babies do NOT learn anything from it.
4) Babies who live in a bilingual house learn language just as fast as babies who live in a monolingual house. They measured vocabulary in kids from both situations at a certain age, and kids had the same vocabulary numbers. The key was that the young children in the bilingual homes had the same number of words in their vocabularies spread over the two languages.
What can parents take away from this research?
1) Talk to your babies. Even if they can’t talk back, they are still learning. YOU are your child’s best toy.
2) Pay attention to your baby, and whatever they do, you add to it. If they say “ba”, say “baba”. If they say “baba”, say “bada”. If they say “truck”, you say “red truck”.
3) Use the television sparingly, if at all. Be aware that even if you really need to park your kids in front of the TV in that crazy moment while you finish dinner while the kids are cranky and tired, that is a moment that they’re not learning. (Can you tell I did that, too?)
4) Read to your babies, even if they can’t talk yet. (You’re not surprised I would put in a plug like this, are you?). Read to them in whatever language you find most comfortable. Notice when they interact with the book or the story, talk to them about it, then read to them again and again.
You’re not only having fun with your beloved child, you’re helping to build their brains!