Monday, May 17, 2010

When talking with kids, it's how as much as how much

It turns out that talking to 3- to 6-year olds as full-fledged conversation partners helps the kids develop what the researchers call "academic language."
Children at a primary school need a certain type of language proficiency: academic language. Academic language is not an independent, new language, but is the language that teachers use and expect from the pupils. It enables children to understand instructions and to demonstrate their knowledge in an efficient manner. Academic language is characterised by difficult, abstract words and complex sentence structures. The language often contains a lot of clauses and conjunctions and due to the methods of argument and analysis it has a scientific appearance.

Henrichs demonstrated that children are already confronted with academic language in the nursery school. They already hear a lot academic language from the teacher and are often expected to use academic language themselves. The extent to which academic language is used at home was found to differ strongly between families. An essential aspect is how parents approach their children during conversations. If children are given the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to conversations, they often use characteristics of academic language proficiency naturally. In addition to this, the knowledge of academic language depends on the extent to which parents read to their children, tell them stories and hold conversations about interesting subjects. 
I guess this study tells us something about why kids in high-quality preschool are better prepared for kindergarten than other kids and why kids from higher socio-economic status (to a point) know more words when they get to preschool than poorer kids. The second factor is more important than the first.

I guess it's not surprising that a mother with more education will talk to her kids differently than a mother with less, and the topics of conversation will be different. I wonder if there is a difference in amount of conversation as well.

But for child care providers, the message is to do what they've been doing, converse with the kids.

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