As a parent, you know that effective communication is one of the essential skills of modern life. Success, whether at school or in a profession; whether in personal or social relationships, depends on your ability to communicate well. Communication means speaking well and listening well. Both are equally important. I’ve written earlier about listening, though a lot more needs to be said in that area. Today, let’s see how you can help your child to speak well.
Many parents believe that children start learning language when they begin to speak. Because of this belief, they start speaking to their child only when the child begins to babble or verbalize. These parents have lost valuable time during which their child could have learnt a lot about language.
Children begin learning from the moment they are born. And the rate of learning slows down with each passing year after they are about 4-5 years old. Yes, as young as that! Check any parenting or child development website or book – the earlier you start, the better for your child. In fact, children already know (recognize and understand the meaning of) hundreds of words before their mouths, tongues, palate and teeth are developed enough to formulate the sounds required to say those words.
So speak to your child as soon as you can. I started when I was three months pregnant – really! 🙂 Here’s a story I’ve written that might give you an idea of what I mean when I say “talk to your infant”.
So – here are the 5 tips that will ensure your child speaks well:
1. Speak to her as you would like her to speak – “Cho chweet” “Shay ‘I love you’”, “Shumbody’s looking very naa-ish today” “Belly good baby”… Don’t go this route. “So sweet” “Say ‘I love you”, “Somebody’s looking very nice today”, “Very good baby”. If she doesn’t hear the correct thing from the very beginning, she will not learn how to speak correctly. You will then have to go through the needless and painful additional task of making her un-learn the wrong thing she has already learned, and re-learn the correct thing. Utter waste of time and energy.
2. Correct him – Even if he is just beginning to string words together to form the most basic of sentences, interrupt him to correct his pronunciation, grammar, intonation – anything and everything that needs to be corrected. Correct him every time, making him repeat the correct way to say it. As you keep on at it and he keeps on at it, he will learn to speak correctly.
Pronunciation: “Not ‘appil’; say ‘apple’.”
Grammar: “Don’t say ‘You did not knew’; say ‘You did not know’.”
Intonation: “If you are asking a question, your voice should end on a higher note. Then people will know it’s a question. See how different the same thing sounds: ‘You are going.’ “You are going?’”
3. Speak naturally – Especially when your child is young, you tend to simplify (or maybe even over-simplify) your vocabulary so that she can understand every word you say. You keep saying the same 20 things over and over again. By doing this, you impose arbitrary and artifical limits on your child’s speech and vocabulary.
If you would naturally use the word ‘astonished’, don’t keep replacing it with ‘surprised’ because you feel your child is ‘too young’ to understand ‘astonished’. In fact, use: taken aback, amazed, bewildered, flabbergasted, shocked, jolted, revealed, marveled, wondered, and as many more as you can think of. Consider using also: environment, inflation, morality, precipice, domineering… 🙂 Your child will learn the nuances of the language, and will learn many more concepts and ideas than he otherwise would. Do yourself a favor and stop censoring your speech – unless you need to, I mean. 🙂
4. Read – Before you rush out and grab a book to read to your child, I must tell you that this will work only if you read – for yourself. Your child must see you reading – books, magazines, the newspaper, your tablet, whatever. Now you can begin to build your child a library at home, though it’s fine to borrow books from one too! The important thing is to read to your child. And when he starts reading, let him read aloud – to you.
5. Listen – When your child speaks, listen. Pay attention to everything she is saying. You might find she’s using a word inappropriately – tell her the correct word to use. You might find she is looking for a word she doesn’t know – supply her with the word. You might hear her say something unacceptable – correct her!
When my daughter was 4, she met the word ‘rascal’ used in the sense of ‘scamp’ in a story book. After 2 days, her grandfather was teasing her about something, and she said to him, “You rascal!” We both jumped and I had to tell her that this was not a word she could use for her grandparents. 🙂
Try these tips – the earlier, the better – and tell me how it goes with you. Even if ‘trying it earlier’ is no longer an option for you, it’s never too late to begin.
Of course, you always get the exception that proves the rule. A friend was telling me how her daughter didn’t speak a single word – not Mama or Daddy or Book or Come or Bye or Ta Ta or Hi – till she was 18 months old. The concerned parents consulted the pediatrician who sent them to a children’s speech specialist and so on. Many tests were conducted, all of which declared that there was nothing wrong with the child. She could vocalize, so she could verbalize, so she should verbalize – but did not. Her behavior and other developmental milestones were normal for a child her age, so it was difficult to attribute the lack of speech to any sort of psychological trauma.
And still the child didn’t speak. This continued till she was 30 months old. No speech. More doctors who pronounced: she could speak, so she should speak. But she wasn’t speaking. My friend and her husband began to worry.
One day, as they sat in front of the TV eating lunch, they were absorbed in the program being broadcast. Their daughter must not have liked their absorption, because in the midst of the meal, they heard her say, “Mom, could you please pass me the vegetables?” 🙂
Just like that! And she was speaking as well as any other child her age – right from the time she ‘started’ speaking – at over 30 months. A few days later, when they’d got used to the ‘miracle’, her parents asked her why she hadn’t said a word before that landmark day.
“There was no need – you understood everything I wanted without my saying it, so why bother?” the minx replied! 🙂