Listening, not Testing, will Improve Children’s Vocabulary

(The Edvocate) Every few months a story appears about the declining speech and language skills of children arriving in primary school. The epithet “the daily grunt” was invented by one newspaper to capture the lack of communication between parent and child, implying it caused poor communication skills and a lack of “school readiness”.

Now a new report by the UK school regulator Ofsted – its first on the early years – has called for children to start school at two years old, in part to help those from lower-income backgrounds who arrive at primary school with poor reading and speech.

While we may actively teach our children to read, oral language skills (the ability to learn words, form sentences and to communicate abstract ideas) is a defining human characteristic and, of these, it is vocabulary which is the pivotal skill. Children grow up acquiring these skills driven by, in Canadian telly-don Stephen Pinker’s words an “instinct” for language.

Recent evidence from twin studies suggests that language skills become increasingly heritable as the child moves through middle school, stressing the import role that the environment plays in the early years.

Yet there has been an abiding concern that some children are simply not speaking enough to access the national curriculum, the inference being that they are not being talked to enough.
But how would we really know there was a problem?

It is tempting to jump to conclusions and say poor speech in young children is simply a matter of parents not talking to their children in a way that encourages language. This is the position taken in the often-quoted 1995 book by Hart and Risley in which they studied 42 children. Their solution is essentially paternalistic – intensive daycare from very early on for the most disadvantaged groups.

A more positive approach is to support both children and parents through awareness, careful observation and the fostering of these early language skills – both in terms of expression and comprehension – from birth. This creates the right environment for language learning rather than simply providing instruction. Read Article

This article was originally published by Professor James Law, Newcastle University, in The Conversation. Read the original article.

Publication:      The Edvocate
Author:             Matthew Lynch
Publish Date:   8.14.2017