A nine-month-old child is typically developing if he can speak even one word. With the benefit of proper scaffolding, he'll know fifty to one hundred words within just a few months. By two, he will speak around 320 words; a couple months later — over 570. Then the floodgates open. By three, he'll likely be speaking in full sentences. By the time he's off to kindergarten, he may easily have a vocabulary of over 10,000 words.
For years, the advice has been that the way to kick-start a child's language learning was to simply expose kids to massive amounts of language. However, as we explain in our book "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children," the newest science has concluded that the central role of the parent is not to push massive amounts of language into the child's ears. Rather, the central role of the parent is to notice what's coming from the child and respond accordingly.
With that in mind, we shared some of the scientists' hottest tips in children's language learning.
1. Baby Talk May Sound Silly But It's Really Good For Kids
Baby Talk: We've all done it — that oddly sing-song, slow, giddy cadence that people suddenly use when speaking to children. There's actually a lot of research on baby talk — the scientific expression for it is parentese. Its patterns and cadence are so universal, that scholars can play a recording of someone speaking in a language you've never heard before, and you'll still know if the person was talking to a baby.
Some parents are adamant against baby talk; instead, they want kids to hear adults speak normally. But that's the wrong approach. Parentese's exaggerated qualities help children's brains discern discrete sounds. By elongating vowels and stressing transitions more clearly, parentese helps a baby brain's auditory cortex recognize vowel-consonants groupings. And some use of it helps until a child's second birthday.
While babies may look at an object of a parent's interest, they learn more from object labeling when the parent isn't intruding or directing the child's attention. Instead, the parent is following the child's lead: object labeling is the most effective when the parent describes an object that the baby is already focused on – gazing, pointing or vocalizing. But timing is everything: the word has to be heard just as an infant is looking or grabbing after it to make sure that the child connects the word to the right object.
3. Beware criss-cross labeling
The danger in overzealous object labeling is that you might inadvertently crisscross the child: that is, don't put words in his mouth that aren't really there.
Say a baby, holding a spoon, says "buh, buh." But a mother doesn't respond to the child's object of attention; instead, she responds to the the "buh" – sound the baby had made. So the mother replies with: "Bottle? You want your bottle?" Inadvertently, she just crisscrossed the baby: she taught him that a spoon is called "bottle." While proper object labeling can accelerate word learning, frequently crisscrossed labeling can slow it to a near halt.