Everyday parent-infant interactions and conversations build a child’s early language base through gaze-shifting, which scientists now know is a critical factor in babies’ ability to learn new language sounds. In turn, this builds critical vocabulary in children of preschool age.
Shared Parent-Child Visual Attention Builds Language Ability
Language learning happens through gaze shifting, when a baby makes eye contact with a caregiver and then looks at the item the caregiver is looking at (the communication triangle Sound Advice noted in 2007).
The degree to which infants visually tracked [their conversation partners] and the toys they held was linked to brain measures of infant learning, showing that social behaviors give helpful information to babies in a complex natural language learning situation.
Infant gaze-shifting builds stronger language and social skills before preschool age, these researchers note. However, mothers’ words and vocabulary in particular have a strong role in teaching children social skills – again giving a head-start for preschool stage.
Infants With Bigger Vocabulary In Kindergarten
Expanding childrens’ vocabulary before preschool starts, is one indicator to a child’s life prospects as they move through the formal education system. Significantly, two-year-olds with fluent vocabulary have better math and language skills and fewer behavioral problems at pre-kindergarten stage – regardless of their social background.
Our findings provide compelling evidence for oral vocabulary’s theorized importance as a multifaceted contributor to children’s early development.” ~ study leader Paul Morgan, an associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University.
For some time, Dr Dana Suskind, founder of the Thirty Million Words initiative, has advised the [education] achievement and word gaps are correlated but can be closed, with parent intervention between birth and age three.
Tips For Families
Watch what a young child is looking at, and narrate it for them, even starting in infancy. Reading storybooks is a good opportunity for this kind of ‘parallel talk‘. It’s only when you’re talking about the things that the child is looking at that they learn the words.
~ Claire Vallotton of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan