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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Talking with your child in the first three years makes a big difference to your child

Two researchers, Todd Risley and Betty Hart, observed and recorded the physical and verbal interactions between parents and children in their homes for the first two and half years of a child's lives. They found something very interesting.

They found, that, on average, parents speak 1500 words per hour to their infant children. But there is a significant difference between educated and uneducated parents. They discovered that college educated 'talkative' parents speak about 2100 words per hour while parents in 'welfare families' speak about 600 words per hour. What impact does this difference have on the children's cognitive capacity?

They administered a Standard-Binet IQ test to these children at age 3. They found a powerful correlation coefficient of 0.6 between the size of the number of words the child had heard and the size of the vocabulary. But the bigger surprise is this:when they measured the correlation coefficient of parent's 'extra talk' , by eliminating the business talk between parent and child, they discovered that it increased to a staggeringly high figure of 0.78.  High correlation coefficient between x and y means that when x happens y also happens. When correlation coefficient is 1, y will definitely happen if x happens. This means, that increase in word size of parent talk has a 78% chance of increasing the vocabulary of the child. In statistical terms, this correlation is very high.

The researchers continued to measure the vocabulary as the children grew older. At age 9, the correlation coefficient was still at 0.77. In other words, breadth of child's vocabulary and reading comprehension remained high even till the age of 9. This means that children who have been talked more by their parents have an incalculable cognitive advantage compared to other children. When these students confront and succeed at the initial academic challenges they encounter in primary school, their sense of self-confidence can blossom. On the other hand, other students, because of this small cognitive disadvantage may find academic work intimidating and unexciting, robbing them of the self confidence. Do you understand how 'small' advantages ( or disadvantages) at a young age can create a big big difference at an older age?

What is surprising is that level of income, ethnicity and even parent's education does not have as much 'explanatory power' ( high correlation coefficient) in determining the level of cognitive capacity as much as this 'extra talk' has. In other words, even if you are poor,  it will still help your child improve his cognitive capacity, if you manage to talk to your child as much as 2000 words per hour.

What 'extra talk' did the researchers found to be more effective? The talk that matters to building the cognitive capacity of child is not the 'business talk', but the 'extra talk'. Researchers found that business talk such as 'Finish your food' ' Do this' or 'Get in the car' etc does not impact the cognitive capacity as much because they seem to be simple, direct and lack nuances. The talk that a child listens when he is put infront of television also does not help the child.

On the other hand, the 'extra talk' that impacts the cognitive capacity is the talk which happens when parents engage with their infants and speak in a fully adult, sophisticated and chatty language ( not bubbly language). This talk happens when the infants are listening, comprehending and fully responding to the comments. It is the talk that is about 'what if', 'do you remember', 'shouldn't you', and so on. They invite infants to think deeply about what is happening around him. This 'extra talk' happens when the parents think aloud of what they are doing or planning.

Researchers have discovered various 'causes' for the above 'correlation'.One of the important cause seem to be Auditory processing skill, that children must be acquiring in these first three years of listening to 'extra talk' with the parents.                                                                     

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