The AP reports that according to research presented at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, how well parents talk to babies helps language skills. The researchers found that “both how much and how well parents talk with babies and toddlers help to tune the youngsters’ brains in ways that build crucial language and vocabulary skills.
These skills are a key “to fighting the infamous ‘word gap’ that puts poor children at a disadvantage at an even younger age than once thought.”
The term “word gap” describes the phenomena in which children from more affluent, professional families hear millions more words before they start school than poor kids, leaving the lower-income students at an academic disadvantage that’s difficult to overcome.
Dr. Kimberly Noble, of Columbia University Medical Center, found that “early experiences shape the connections that children’s brains form, and kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds devote more ‘neural real estate’ to brain regions involved in language development,” a finding supported by “brain scans.”
The researchers point out, “Using videos that claim to teach toddlers, or flash cards for tots, may not be the best idea. Simply talking to babies is key to building crucial language and vocabulary skills – but sooner is better, and long sentences are good.”
Instead of just saying, “Here’s an orange,” it would be better to say: “Let’s put the orange in this bowl with the banana and the apple and the grapes.”
“It’s making nets of meaning that then will help the child learn new words,” one of the researchers explained.
“The advice I give mothers is to have conversations with your babies,” added Erika Hoff, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University. “Children can hear lots of talk that goes over their head in terms of the meaning, and they still benefit from it.”