A rich language environment is much more than just talking to a child. If just talking were enough to master a language children would be able to learn to communicate from watching TV.
Children don’t learn language passively
Sure, children can learn some words and other things from TV but to become a strong communicator a child needs to practice skills through trial and error with real people in real life conversational exchanges. In fact, if the adult talks and talks with little back and forth exchanges the child may in fact begin to tune out the talking rather than tune in to it. Then there is a lot of talking with little to no value at all!
There are those who talk AT children
There are those who talk TO children
And then there are those who take the extra time to talk WITH a child and THAT is magical to watch!
Characteristics of a rich linguistic environment:
- Adult leaves long pauses to wait for the child to take a turn. Even tiny babies can participate nonverbally in a social exchange. If nothing else the adult leaves a space so the infant learns to take a turn there over time.
- There are many more statements than questions. Too many questions make it more of a an interrogation or performance than a natural conversational exchange.
- The adult responds to what the child intended to say rather than correct their speech. A lot of emphasis on correcting HOW a child speaks takes the child’s focus away from formulating thoughts and ideas.
- The adult helps the child be successful within the conversational topic. The adult ties the child’s vocalization or utterances into the topic to maintain the flow.
- The adult makes eye contact with the child.
- The child feels the adult is truly interested in what he/she has to say. The adult gets down to the child’s level and gives full focus of attention.
- Both participants have turns to add information to the topic. For children who already have some language this conversation can’t be scripted in advance.
- The child appears to be thinking and listening as the adult talks.
- The adult gives more space at the end of the child’s sentences to allow a bit of extra time before jumping in. The adult is mindful to listen until the end of a child’s thought rather than cut him/her off. Children don’t usually process language at the same speed as an adult.
- The adults talk about the actual conversation, their own thoughts and feelings. This is how parents typically model thinking aloud. Children benefit from this enormously.
When engaged in a strong language rich environment child’s abilities should show constant progress. New vocabulary is being introduced in EVERY interaction when the environment is rich in language exposure. In a rich language environment there is a lot of narration and effort at carving out space for the child to participate.
Language rich conversations can fit into the cracks of time between running from here to there.
There doesn’t need to be a planned child focused activity or long periods of time set aside to engage. It’s the smallest moments of connection during daily routines that grow conversations.
As parents, we need to be conscious to make conversational exchanges become integrated into what we are already doing so over time it just becomes second nature.
Just because you talk a lot doesn’t mean you are providing strong language models.
Just because a child talks a lot doesn’t mean his skills are age appropriate either. Becoming a strong conversationalist requires awareness of your communicative partner, sharing topics, and knowing how much information is appropriate for the situation. Conversational competency develops slowly over many years. It’s best developed by having conversation with strong conversational partners.
Are you a strong conversational partner and role model for rich language?