enotalone logo

Talking To Children Is Better Than Reading To Them

July 1, 2009

Parents who want their children to develop language and speech skills, are advised not just to talk to them, but also to listen to what the kids have to say, UCLA researchers have found.

Dr. J Frederick Zimmerman, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Services in the UCLA School of Public Health, says that engaging children in conversation is up to 6 times more effective for the development of their language skills, when compared to exposing children to language through just one-on-one reading. And even if a child is too young to form words, the experts advise to let them babble.

For the study purposes, the UCLA researchers involved 275 families with children whose ages were between 2 months and 4 years old. The families represented a variety of household incomes and education. Vast majority of families in the study were white, with 3 per cent of the families black, 8 per cent Hispanic and 7 per cent another non-white ethnicity.

On a randomly chosen day, all parents were asked to record their child's entire day, from morning and until the child went to bed at night. That day children needed to wear a small digital language recorder or a processor known as the LENA System, for 12 hours. The device recorded surrounding speech and TV sound for later analysis. This innovative technology gave the investigators an opportunity to hear what was really going on in a child's language environment, facilitating access to valuable new insights.

Each family provided about 5 full-day recordings during the period of the study that lasted for 6 months. Also, 71 of the families continued the study for an additional18 months. Children's language capacity was assessed from time to time by means of the Preschool Language Scale, Fourth Edition.

The results revealed that, during an average day, children hear approximately 13,000 spoken words from their parents/caregivers and get engaged in about 400 adult-child conversations on a daily basis. Researchers found that, when assessed separately, factors that were positively linked to language development, included 100 additional adult-child conversations per day and each 1,000 word increase in the number of words spoken by adults and heard by their kids.

On the contrary, adult monologueing, such as monologic reading or parents talking at children, was more weakly associated with the development of the the speech or language skills in children. The study found that letting children watch television made virtually no impact, positive or negarive, on their language development between birth and the the age of 48 months. However, when all the factors were examined together, the only one that stood out and had the most beneficia impact, was conversation between adults and children.

Without any doubt, when adults speak to children, it contributes to language development, but what matters much more is the interaction, said Dr. Zimmerman. "The more a child speaks and interacts with an adult, the better idea a parent has about where the child is and although it is mostly done unconsciously, parents will provide feedback and correct mistakes. They will also tailor their speech to the child." That is why, conversation should always be a two-way street, the expert concluded.

The research is to be published in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Tags: Parenting and Families