The Buzz Early Language & Literacy Series | Second Edition

Children Learn What They Hear Most

This month, we are diving into the first of six principles of early language learning that supports reading. If you recall from the September Buzz, we asked you to consider some questions below. (To read September's series introduction, click here.)
  • What did you hear the most? 
  • How does your experience affect how you talk with your children?

According to Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, professor at Temple University, and her team of researchers, children learn what they hear most. How do we know this? Research has shown that the more words babies and toddlers hear per hour, the larger their vocabularies are at age three. The larger their vocabularies are at age three, the better their scores in language, literacy, comprehension and even math at ages nine and ten! Children who heard more language (e.g., more words, larger variety of words, and longer sentences) at 18 months had larger vocabularies and increased processing speed by 24 months - just six months later. Processing speed refers to how fast your child can take in and use information.

Did you know that processing speed improves later reading comprehension? Mem Fox, author and former Professor of Literacy Studies, summarizes what the research has proven in one of her blog posts: “Learning language—learning how to speak—is the most important prereading skill of all. Learning how to talk clearly, with a wide, interesting vocabulary is far more important than anything else in preparing children to learn to read—much more important than learning the letters of the alphabet or letter/sound relationships. Put simply, children who can’t talk can’t learn to read.”

You may be thinking, “I talk to my children all the time!” But what are you actually saying?  No, stop, and don’t may be at the top of your list, especially if you have a toddler! There is certainly a time and place for those all-important words, but understanding the difference between talking “at” your child and talking “with” your child is helpful. Talking "with" your child builds your relationship by encouraging back-and-forth communication or conversation. Examples include:
  1. describing things you and your child do throughout the day
  2. listening to their responses
  3. responding to their sounds and words
  4. asking questions and making comments using adult vocabulary
  5. reading out loud to them 

In Mem’s opinion, “We have to teach them to talk first, and reading aloud to them is the best way of doing it.” Books bring in the visual component to language, while exploring vocabulary and structure that children don’t experience in every day conversation.

Check out the following videos:
  • VIDEO 1 As an example of how to talk with your infant, this video shows how much a three month old can say!
  • VIDEO 2 | VIDEO 3 Our next videos share ideas on how to talk with your babies and toddlers.
  • VIDEO 4 If you don’t believe babies can engage with adult vocabulary, please enjoy this little gem.
  • For Mem Fox’s complete blog post, click here.
  • For great tips on reading and talking with your preschooler, click here.

Coming up in November: Children learn words for things/events that interest them.

Happy talking...and reading!

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