Friday, May 21, 2010

Talking Seriously to Young Children

A Dutch researcher has  looked at the kind of language skills that young children need to be successful in their classrooms. Lotte Henrich's April, 2010 doctoral thesis at the University of Amsterdam, entitled Academic language in early childhood interactions. A longitudinal study of 3- to 6-year-old Dutch monolingual children, looks at the kinds of language used in classroom settings and compares it to the language demands that young children encounter in their lives outside school.

What Henrich calls "academic language" is the language used by teachers as early as preschool to provide instructions and convey information. It is more complex than casual language, with more difficult words, conjunctions, and clauses. Proficiency in this kind of language enables children to understand instructions from their teachers and to show that they have understood what is being taught in class.

Looking at 25 Dutch families (a part of a larger study with 150 children) over a period of three years , Henrich determined that acquisiton of academic language can be strongly influenced by the way that parents communicate with their children. Those children whose parents engaged them in serious conversations and who included them in interesting discussions demonstrated increased facility with academic language. Other influences included the extent to which parents read to their children and told them stories. We've often heard that reading to our children is important, but this new research indicates that talking to them in a serious way, and including them in the back-and-forth of conversations, can build language skills that will help them in the classroom.

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