Language Development: It’s for natives too!

When people think of learning language, thoughts often turn to foreign languages.  While the optimum time to introduce foreign languages to a child is as early as possible in life, but before puberty for maximum benefit, it’s equally as important to develop your child’s native tongue.

All too often, one’s native language (or native languages, if being raised bilingual from birth) can be taken for granted.  Parents might expect that a child being raised in a specific linguistic environment will automatically develop the necessary skills to become proficient in that language because the child lives every day surrounded by it.  We may assume that enrolling the child in Pre-K, and then school, will ensure linguistic success.  While all of the above are certainly contributing factors to fluency and literacy in one’s native language, it often takes more than osmosis and a classroom to fully develop a child’s linguistic skills in the native language.

Have you noticed that a child who plays lots of video games develops a vocabulary specific to those games which filters into everyday life? Have you ever encountered an adult who writes exactly as s/he speaks?  These situations happen because the input (what the child sees and hears) that the child is receiving is narrow and unvaried.

What can we do to help our children become great readers, writers, speakers, and critical thinkers?  It’s as simple as keeping in mind that great and varied input equals skilled output. It’s all about exposure.

Here are some suggestions to put kids on the path to linguistic success:

* Read to Your Child Daily – Ask your child questions about the story as you go along.  Have him/her point out objects, colors, letters, and words.

* Have Your Child Read for Fun and Personal Interest – Allow him/her to choose books and magazines of interest. Require 30 minutes of reading or more per day. Provide incentives. Choose topics the child can relate to. Ask your child to tell you about what he/she has read.
Studies have shown that the vocabulary and sentence structure learned through reading, contributes to writing skills.

* Play Mental and Visual Word Games – Help your Pre-K child learn to spell by using an art easel to draw pictures and associated letters and words. Play Hangman. Ask your child to close his/her eyes and practice visualizing a word.

Example:  I have my 5 year old close his eyes and listen to a word.  (Today, we used “pen”.) Without telling him the word, I spell it for him, and ask him to draw it in his mind. I then trace the word on his forehead with my finger, as he would see it in his mind while repeating the letters P-E-N.  Without ever having spelled the word before, he was able to see it, sound it out, and figure out the word.  He loves it and this exercise has taught him not to have rely on writing it out to figure it out, a skill which will be useful to him as he starts kindergarten, moves forward in school, takes assessments, etc.

* Talk to Your Child – Make up stories together, ask questions, use every day life as a learning experience.

* Play Rhyming Games
 – “I Spy” is a great game to play with kids.

* Sing to, and with, your child – Music encourages memory.

* Have your child tell you about his/her day. Don’t take “I don’t know” or “nothing” for an answer.
Share the events of your day as well.

* Take educational excursions – libraries, museums (like C’mon!), musical performances, etc.
Exposing your children to the world opens additional topics of conversation, new words to spell, new concepts and ideas to understand, and prompts further investigation.

Remember that a well-developed native language also helps children to learn a second, third, or fourth language.

What are you doing this summer to enhance your child’s language skills?  Share your activities and strategies by posting a comment!

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