Sunday, September 18, 2011

365 Days of Reading: Tip #21 - Don't Be a Dumb-y

Do not 'dumb down' your language to talk to your little one! It is unnecessary and even harmful. Let me tell you why.

Young children have an amazing capacity for learning language. All they need is the proper input. And all words are created equal, so use the CORRECT, SPECIFIC labels for things rather than trying to dumb it down just because your child is small.

Here's an example. Two words that can be used to describe the taste of food are "scrumptious" and "good". A young child is equally capable of learning and using either term - they're both JUST words. Adults may hear a child use the word "scrumptious" and think, Wow what a genius!! But it's just as easy for that child to learn one word over the other. Another example: two words that can be used to name a particular musical instrument: "horn" and "trombone". Which one is more specific?

Think of how easily a baby who is constantly exposed to two or more languages can be become bilingual or even trilingual. This happens with no direct, explicit instruction on the caregivers' part, but simply through daily conversation and interaction. If these children can learn two (or more) labels for everything in their daily lives, can you imagine what a large vocabulary yours has the capacity for? Don't squander it by using 'simple' labels. Use SPECIFIC ones. I have seen posts on very popular baby & child websites that advise parents to use simple language when teaching their little ones how to talk. Do not fall into this trap! And don't listen to anyone who says you are talking over your baby's head. Advice like this will only limit your child in the long run.

Older babies and young toddlers who are just learning how to talk may not be able to say all the sounds in longer words. This is a-okay. Give it time. As their speaking catches up with their understanding, the resulting vocabulary explosion will amaze you (and everyone else who doesn't know this secret of talking to babies!).

Simpler words are more commonly heard and spoken, so you won't need to remind yourself to use them often and teach them to your child. Less common words, like 'scrumptious' or 'trombone', may not be the first ones to come to mind, so you may have to remind yourself to use a variety of vocabulary in your interactions with your little one. Remind yourself to use the most specific, accurate language available for any given topic, and you will see your child's vocabulary expand in kind.

That said, here are some great books to share with your child that aren't afraid of using the "big words":

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