Easy ways to improve your child’s linguistic and reading skills

Improving linguistic skills

Babies only learn language though face-to-face experience with live people but not from people on television, so talking to a child as much as possible, including when they are in the [rear-facing] pram, can help kids can also build better language skills. Babies and toddlers who face their parents have more face-to-face time with adults.

Children in rear-facing prams have the language advantage because their parent or carer is constantly engaging with them through chatter or song, directing their attention (and word identification) to objects, places and feelings, naturally interacting in a more intensive way by interpreting a child’s babble and correcting their speech. One hour a day in a rear-facing pram over three years adds up to over a thousand hours of extra language building.

This level of verbal interaction can help children to develop a much larger vocabulary so that by the time they reach school age, their language skills are naturally more developed.

Words often need to be heard more than once to be understood and remembered and this isn’t always possible in the classroom. When infant school children already understand the words, all they have to do is decode the letters. The sounds quickly fit the meaning, and the spelling of words are easily remembered – a child who hasn’t heard the word before has to learn two steps – the meaning and the decoding.

Baby Talk

The more gibberish your baby utters, the better reader he and she might grow up to be! Children start experimenting with vowel sounds around two months after birth and they pick up the basic sounds of their native language by the time they are around six-months old.

Most children say their first word by the time they are one, and start to make (short) sentences around their second year of life. However, reading doesn’t start until between four and seven.

Researchers at Florida State University think that children who are chattiest – even when they aren’t really saying anything – might have particular literary leanings. They found that children with more complex babble as babies performed better when identifying specific letters in later reading tests.

Conversely, children with difficulties identifying letters were more likely to develop reading impairments, but such difficulties can’t be uncovered until the child is three to five-years-old. Assessing language ability even earlier, by measuring speech complexity in infancy, might predict later difficulties.

Tracking nine babies from English-speaking families between the ages of nine and 30 months, they recorded each baby’s babble as they interacted with their primary caregiver. They also looked specifically at the consonant-vowel (CV) ratio – a proven measure of speech complexity.

They met each child again when they were six years old to examine their ability to identify letters – a known predictor of later reading impairment and discovered that those with more complex babble as babies performed better when identifying specific letters in their later reading test.

Though the sample size was relatively small, and all nine children developed normally, the findings may indicate a link between early speech production and literacy skill.

The study suggests that the complexity of baby babble may be useful as an earlier predictor of reading impairments in children than letter identification tests, enabling parents and professionals to earlier identify and treat children at risk of reading difficulties.

Bedtime Story

Parents who regularly read with their children boost the language skills of their offspring by eight months, increasing their ability to understand information.

Researchers at Newcastle University, in conjunction with the Nuffield Foundation, looked at studies from five countries: the USA, South Africa, Canada, Israel and China. They found receptive language (understanding), expressive language (where a child puts their thoughts into words such as vocabulary and grammar) and pre-reading skills (such as how words are structured), all improved. The most noticeable difference was with receptive language skills.

Socially disadvantaged children were found to experience more benefit than others.
Previous research proved that children with delayed language development do worse at school and have poorer outcomes later in life.

Books on their own are not enough… reading with small children has a measurable and powerful effect.

The Book Prize

What teenagers read makes a big difference in their development, novels being far more beneficial than comics and magazines.

Novels are more challenging than comics, magazines and short online material because they require readers to digest large amounts of long continuous text. Books also force youngsters to switch off from other distractions.

University College London Institute of Education researchers analysed data from more than 250,000 teenagers aged 15, across 35 industrialised countries including the UK.

The data showed that teenagers who read fiction had reading skills more than six months ahead of peers who almost never read fiction books or novels. This is almost certainly because novels exercise the imagination and help the reader explore the world in a way that magazines and the internet cannot.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2020. All rights reserved.

About Andrew Newton

Andrew Newton has an international reputation as a leading authority on hypnosis. 

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