You can’t be a parent and not be fascinated with development. A child’s growth – from newborn to toddler and into childhood – it’s such an incredible transformation. It’s quite a privilege to witness it, and from the front row, too.
During the first year, I was most interested in Cee’s gross motor development. I loved watching her move her body in deliberate ways, from the way she turned her head away from something too stimulating as a newborn to sitting up for the first time, to pulling up, cruising, crawling, and then boldly to walking, climbing, and running.
Now, nearing her second birthday, the most fascinating development frontier for me is Cee’s language. She surprises me with new words everyday. It’s exploding.
It was perfect timing, then, that I received a copy of the newly revised book, “Beyond Baby Talk” by Drs. Kenn Apel and Julie Masterson, professors of Communication Sciences and Disorders at University of South Carolina, Columbia, and Missouri State University, respectively. (The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association sponsored the book, and they sent me a review copy. As always, I only review books that I’d recommend to my friends, and I receive no compensation for doing so.)
I’m super excited that Drs. Apel and Masterson have agreed to do an author interview with Science of Mom readers, answering your questions about language development. Just leave your question in the comments below, and the Beyond Baby Talk authors will answer several of them in a follow-up post in a couple of weeks. Plus, we’ll also be giving away a copy of the book!
Now, let me tell you a little about Beyond Baby Talk (but let’s call it BBB).
The first half of BBB chronicles language development from infancy to the early school years, describing major milestones and transitions and offering suggestions for how parents can encourage their children’s development. The second half of the book covers topics like the influence of gender, birth order, culture, media (ahem, television.. and texting), and childcare on language development. The final chapter is on what to do if you suspect a language delay. It’s all well-organized for finding quick answers to your questions, and it’s written in accessible language. You don’t need a graduate degree to understand this book, but as someone with a science background, I appreciate the reference list in the back of the book.
There’s also a chapter entitled, “Fads, Scams, and Myths: Knowing What to Look for.” Spoiler alert: No, you shouldn’t try to teach your infant how to read or run your toddler through language drills. Your child will learn to speak and eventually read and write without special gadgets or programs. She’ll learn through conversations with you, by reading with you, and by watching you model reading and writing. What I most appreciated about this chapter is that it provides a handy guide on “Being an Informed Consumer of Information.” Apel and Masterson describe how they judge the quality of evidence, what peer review is all about, and how to evaluate an advertised product, method, or claim related to language development. I would venture to say that this guide would be helpful in evaluating the quality of information in just about any area of parenting, so I think that it is fabulous that they included it.
Since Cee is almost two, I was of course most interested in the toddler chapter. And reading this chapter made me realize just how much fascinating stuff was happening right under my nose.
Most toddlers begin using 2-word sentences around 2 years of age. (This happened a couple of months ago with Cee and many other toddlers I know, but as with anything in development, I’m sure there is a broad range for normal.) At this time, Apel and Masterson write, most toddlers will be speaking 30-50 words. By their 3rd birthday, they use more than a 1000 words, and of course, understand probably thousands more. In other words, this coming year is a big one for language development.
The book introduced me to a few milestones in toddler language development that I might otherwise have hardly noticed. For example, it turns out that one of the first uses of grammar is often word endings, like saying “doggie barking” instead of the simpler “dog bark.” Cee just started doing this! These developments are often subtle to us parents, who are around our kids day after day, but they represent big leaps in the understanding of language.
In the chapter on toddler language development, Apel and Masterson write that toddlers seem to master the importance of context in the use of the words me/you, mine/yours, and here/there (all words whose meaning change with the speaker) without much effort, which is quite impressive when you think about it. I was interested in this because Cee actually struggles with this concept. For example, if I say, “Cee, can I help you put your pants on?” she’ll reply (quite emphatically, I will add), “No, YOU!” She wants to do it herself, but she calls herself “you” because that’s what we call her. This concept is nearly impossible to explain, much less to a toddler. Any attempt quickly turns into a “who’s on first” type of conversation. I guess Cee is a little behind the curve on this one, but I’m sure she’ll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, it is left to me to speculate if this represents a deficiency, a hidden sign of genius, or an indication that she’s just a very literal kind of person.
Overall, what I love about this book is that it reminds parents again and again of this mantra:
“Language is developed, not taught.”
As parents, our most important role in language learning is to model the use of everyday language, which simply means talking with our children, beginning on the first day of life. Apel and Masterson advise that we be careful that our language interactions don’t start to feel like lessons or chores or ways to gain approval. Playtime should be playtime, using natural opportunities to make observations. So, resist the urge to drill your little ones: “What color block is this? How about this one? And this one?” Instead, keep it real: “I’ll add this green block to our tower.” In the case of understanding color, Apel and Masterson describe it as a very complex concept, that it takes time to learn, and that drilling your child runs the risk of turning something fun and fascinating – learning how to describe the world – into a chore.
Likewise, if a child pronounces a word incorrectly, asking her to repeat your more correct version is also not that useful. Instead, Apel and Masterson recommend repeating the word correctly and moving on. “Asking your child to imitate you does not allow her to learn why she might be saying that particular sound, word, or sentence, or when she should say it.”
All of this is good news for parents. We can enjoy talking and reading with our kids, trusting that their language will develop as they begin to organically master these complex concepts. And if you’re concerned that your child isn’t meeting developmental milestones, this book has some tips for you, too.
I admit, when I first opened this book, I thought it might be a bit dry. But it turned out that the topic is fascinating and the writing engaging, and it just made me want to learn more. BBB addresses lots more topics that I’ve always wondered about. Do boys and girls learn language in different ways or at different rates? How about first children vs. their little brothers or sisters? How does bilingualism affect language development? How do I choose a good childcare provider with language development in mind? I’ll definitely revisit this book as Cee continues to talk up a storm!
OK, so now it’s your turn! What do you wonder about language development? Leave your question as a comment below for the opportunity to have the BBB authors answer it, AND you’ll be entered to win your own copy of the book. If you don’t have a question, you can enter the giveaway by just leaving a comment somehow language related – your child’s first word, latest verbal triumph, or cutest recent kid quote.
Giveaway closes at midnight on November 21, 2012.