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Building Speech with Confidence

by Teresa, The CuteKid™ Staff

Parents naturally expect their child to acquire speech as they grow from infant to preschooler. But many parents do not realize how important they are as parents in the language process. Researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley published a study showing the difference in vocabulary sizes of children as they first learn to talk. They wanted to see what made a difference. The researchers found that "as the children grew they became more and more like their parents in vocabulary size, language, and interaction style. About 90% of the words recorded in each child’s vocabulary were also found in their parents." So if a parent didn't use the word the child didn't either.

But the researchers didn't stop there. They wanted to see if the children made up the vocabulary difference once entering school. In 3rd grade a study of the same children showed that "the rate of growth predicted at age three was strongly associated with the vocabulary scores, language skill, vocabulary use, and reading comprehension of the children in 3rd grade. Thus showing that if a child has a smaller vocabulary at age three they will most likely have lower vocabulary test scores in 3rd grade and beyond."

So what can parents do for child speech development?

The first thing is to speak to your child. Talk to them about the things that you and they are doing. As you dress your child talk about what you are doing. If your child is helping you cook discuss each step in the recipe. Make their environment language rich. The more times they hear a word used the more likely they are to use it themselves. Think about your child's first words. They were probably the words that they heard the most.

If your vocabulary isn't very large learn new words and then use them. Do not use the same word to describe everything that is "big." Introduce other words like: enormous, gigantic, huge, large, immense, or humongous. This will expand your child's vocabulary. Because researchers have found that a child will not use a word that they have not heard and they will not be able to recognize it in print while reading either. As I am talking to my young children I try and slip in words that are new. Since I am using the word in context it is usually understood, but if not I explain what the word means. As a result my son's vocabulary and consequently reading level are way above his grade level.

Read to your children. Most people's speaking vocabulary consists of only 5,000 of the most common words with another 5,000 words used occasionally. Books use "rare words" that are not used as much in conversation. A good children's book will use big words. As you are reading don't exchange the more difficult word for an easier one. Read it and expose your child to a new word.

Listen to your child as they speak to you. When you really listen to your child, which includes making eye contact and stopping what you are doing, you are sending the message that what your child has to say is important. If your child believes that what they say is valuable they will be more likely to speak to others.

Sometimes children do have speech delay or other speech problems. My daughter did. So it is important that you get help for your child as soon as possible, don't expect them to just grow out of it. All states have free speech therapy programs for children under the age of three. Check with your state's health and welfare department for more information. Getting your child therapy while still little helps ensure that by the time they enter kindergarten their speech will be at grade level and they will be confident speaking with others.

As a parent you are the most important factor in determining the size of your child's vocabulary and their confidence in speaking. Using big words makes your child feel important and sound intelligent. Increasing their confidence and self-esteem. So enrich your child's vocabulary by talking and reading to them.