Building Kids’ Vocabulary Doesn’t Have to Involve Words

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The stronger a child’s vocabulary, the more successful she tends to be in school, and new research shows that the word-building can begin before kids start talking.

Child development experts have long advised parents to talk to their babies, even if their infants can’t talk back. The more a parent talks to his child, the more words they are likely to learn. Now comes new work suggesting that even non-verbal cues such as pointing to objects can encourage vocabulary building regardless of socioeconomic status. It’s not just the quantity of words spoken, then, that’s important but the quality of the learning environment that may make the greatest difference.

(MORE: Is Quality Pre-Kindergarten the Key to a Better Vocabulary?)

To come to this conclusion, researchers from the University of Chicago videotaped the daily interactions of 50 parents and their toddlers over two 90-minute sessions when the kids were 14 months to 18 months. In order to tease apart the parents who used non-verbal cues from those who relied more on verbal communication, the researchers bleeped out a key word from 10 randomly selected 40-second clips of these recordings. They asked another 218 adults to watch these clips and guess which word the parent was saying at the beep.

The scientists then defined those situations in which the participants were easily able to determine the word — for example, guessing that the recorded parent was saying “book” if he said it while the child was walking to a bookshelf — as involving non-verbal cues, and classified the environments in which it was harder to guess the missing word as being primarily verbal ones.

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Most of the parents used non-verbal cues from 5% to 38% of the time. Three years later, about the time the youngsters entered kindergarten, the researchers assessed their vocabularies and found that children with the biggest vocabularies also had parents whose beeped-out words were more easily deduced in the recording clips. Giving new words context with non-verbal cues could explain about 22% of the difference in vocabularies among children whose parents used them v. those who did not.

“Children’s vocabularies vary greatly in size by the time they enter school,” the study’s lead author, Erica Cartmill, a postdoctoral scholar at University of Chicago, said in a statement. “Because preschool vocabulary is a major predictor of subsequent school success, this variability must be taken seriously and its sources understood.”

The researchers say that the advantage previous studies have shown among higher income children when it comes to linguistic skills may be due to the fact that their parents tend to be more educated, and to talk to them more, flooding them with a large quantity of words. But the latest findings suggest that the quality of the learning environment may be able to compensate for a smaller number of words to which an infant is exposed. Understanding how both verbal and non-verbal methods enhance children’s language skills could give more parents fresh opportunities for helping their children to become better communicators.

8 comments
punkakes13
punkakes13

take the example of the wolf child huahauha

it didnt learn to speak, and when doctors found it. it was too late fo it to have capacity to lear to speak.. because its something that needs to start early on.. it lost the capacity very soon, like with 7 years, and it coud never learn to verbalize

punkakes13
punkakes13

doesnt have to involve words? so i would be pointing out objects without sayin nothing? so he baby gotta figure out what its called.. i dont see it as possible

unless the adult talk a lot with eachother and the baby capture it..

anyways

its not possible without worlds

GaurangaPérezRivas
GaurangaPérezRivas

Even though anyone with little understanding of language adquisition would eagerly laugh at the chosen title for this article, there is information worth pointing out. From my humble point of view, non-verbal stimulation is an excellent tool to help a baby make sense of the language. However, I regard the idea that vocabulary can be built without words rather laughable for if there is no exposure to the sound of words, needless to say, there is no vocabulary  at all. What I do really find fascinating is the huge contribution that a favorable learning environment can make to a baby's language acquisition process.      

punkakes13
punkakes13

i feel like they r insulting the baby, even though it cant talk

because it has a lot of potential


punkakes13
punkakes13

i think those people who talk with babies making noises r very insensitve and dont understand human kind at all.. i bet their babies r gonna be very dumb

punkakes13
punkakes13

duhhhh, of course

when one is in its full speed development, u need to be much ahead of its intellect

punkakes13
punkakes13

@GaurangaPérezRivas no verbal is without a sentence.. but using words, from what i understood

anyways u gotta always have to ue words

this article is stupid