Author: Emilia WONG
Research Assistant, Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education
Second Author: Qing LIU
Assistant Professor, Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the favourite music in the ears of fresh parents is the first word of their child. One could say with true certainty, that almost all new parents anticipate their child’s first muttering with immense joy and anxiety. And more often than not, they would ask: what are the ways to support my child to speak faster, better, and smarter?
Have you ever paid attention to how often we speak? The act of speaking has always been an integral part of our daily lives, and according to research, an average person speaks at least 7,000 words a day. That is almost the length of an undergraduate dissertation! Since speech comes so naturally to the majority of us, we often forget how much of a delicate and complex art it is to speak.
Perhaps this would give parents a clearer idea of how much of a herculean task it is for a baby to learn how to speak. In order to speak clearly and intelligibly, a person must coordinate their mouth, throat, and breath accurately. The motor control of speech-producing muscles is an incredibly sophisticated skill which requires precise and fast movements of the tongue and lips. A person also needs to have the ability to understand different words and syntax structures to communicate effectively. Not to mention, they also need to learn how to “read the room”– that is, to grasp what is appropriate to say in their situation or social context. A valuable skill that even many adults nowadays fail to fully develop.
Are you seeing how impressive this is, for a baby to go from a soft, quiet blob of nothing to a babbling child in the blink of an eye? Kids develop in such a fast and efficient way, that even the best motorcycle in the world would not dare to compare. However, since children develop their speech ability in such a quick manner, guiding their learning in the wrong way could cause drastic individual differences in their vocabulary and sense of grammar, and also create a great communication gap between the child and their peers that can be hard to bridge.
So, what could a parent do in order to encourage their child to talk more frequently and in a more diverse manner? Here are some tactics that parents can try to keep in mind.
Firstly, the parent should pay attention to the child’s current ability to speak, and respond at their level. Parents should use language that is neither too simple nor too complicated, but simply slightly above the child’s level at the moment. If you use wordings that are too advanced for the child, those words will just flow over their head and become fruitless. It is also crucial to take note of what the baby is interested in or is doing, and attempt to follow that line of interest. Parents are encouraged to adapt to each child’s individual interests instead of forcing the child to follow the flow of early learning CDs, since the learning process would be hindered if the content does not cater to the child’s interest.
Secondly, it is important to be encouraging and responsive to your child’s attempts at speaking, even if they make mistakes, or if you could not understand them at all. Try your best to pay attention to your baby’s mumblings, and display excitement to their attempts to speak. The worst thing you can do would be to ignore their attempts, which would make them believe the act of speaking is futile. Even if your baby has made a mistake in their speech, try to appreciate their courage for attempting instead of telling them they got it wrong right away. Say the phrase again to provide a correct model, and allow the child to correct themselves slowly. Sometimes, toddlers do know the proper pronunciation or the proper diction, it is just that their muscle coordination is not good enough to reproduce them yet. Therefore, there is no real need to be too hung up on small mistakes.
To nurture the speech development of your child, you may try narrating your daily work and occurrences whenever possible. Describing a situation, or helping the toddler to describe what they are doing, can greatly help them to express their own needs and wants. For example, when your child is signalling you to pick them up, ask them “do you want me to pick you up?” or hint that you would like them to say it themselves. This way, they will slowly learn the way to ask for your embrace vocally.