Article at a Glance

  • Talking directly to your children using long, complex sentences can increase their intelligence and vocabulary.
  • Research shows that the gap in language development between children from lower-income and more affluent families stems from how much they are talked to.
  • Experts hope that educating parents on the importance of speaking often to their children will help.

Want to build your children’s vocabularies and increase their intelligence? Then talk to your children as much as you can. Studies show that talking frequently to your children from the moment they are born will help them enter school better prepared and will help them excel as they get older.

Research is showing that things like baby videos and flashcards don’t have nearly the same impact as talking directly to your child. Having quality conversations with your children promotes brain development and helps them develop important language skills. The sooner you start the better. Even if your baby doesn’t understand all of it, it is helping.

At this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science several presentations focused on research about how children’s vocabularies develop. Vocabulary is important because words are building blocks for further learning. Children learn words by putting them into context. If a child already knows a lot of words, the child will then be able to figure out new words faster because it is easier to put them in context. As children make connections, their intelligence increases and they are prepared to learn even more new words.

According to the research presented, here are some important things you can do when talking to your child:

  • Don’t just name objects, but put things in context. Focus on connecting words and their meanings. Instead of just pointing to a ball and saying “ball,” talk about what color it is, how high it bounces, and how it relates to the other toys around it.
  • Speak to your children using longer and more complex sentences that make use of good grammar. Don’t use baby talk even if your child is a baby. Talk to your children much like you would an adult.
  • Talk a lot. Get in the habit of chatting with your baby and explaining things. Talk to your child about what you are doing while playing with toys, dressing your child, making dinner, or grocery shopping.
  • Talk directly to your child. Being exposed to language indirectly through the television or by overhearing conversations does not build vocabulary.
  • Make your conversations enticing and invite involvement. Instead of just telling your child to “put your coat on,” say, “It is cold outside. What do we need to put on?” Find things your children are interested in to talk about.

The goal of the research is to find ways to close the “word gap” between children from lower income families and more affluent families. Studies have found that children from more affluent families are exposed to millions of more words by the time they start school than children from poorer families. Brain scans have shown that children from higher income families have larger regions of the brain devoted to language development.

Educators are worried because many children are starting kindergarten two years behind other students in language development.

Recently the focus has been on using preschool to help children catch up. But according to the recent research this might be too late. The gap can start as early as 18 months old, while many believe that it starts as early as birth. Many are hoping that educating parents on the importance of speaking to their children will help.

More information:

Talking to Kids Really Matters: Early Language Experience Shapes Later Life Chances (American Association for the Advancement of Science)

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Talking To Your Child Increases Intelligence and Vocabulary

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