There’s been a lot of buzz on the Internet recently about a new study published in the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, which states that “TV-viewing tends to decrease babies’ likelihood of learning new words, talking, playing and otherwise interacting with others.” To most of us this news comes as no surprise (there’s a reason it’s called a Boob Tube), but it does raise an important issue from a language development perspective since according to this study, “for every hour a television was turned on, babies heard 770 fewer words from an adult…Conversational exchanges between baby and parent dropped 15%, as did the overall number of vocalizations made by children.”
While banning television from your home forever is neither practical nor necessary (thank God), the bottom line is crystal clear: babies learn language best through direct interaction with their parents and other caregivers. This conclusion is even more important for families who are trying to raise their children in more than one language. Of course there are many ways for parents to interact directly with their children, but we at Bilingual Readers believe that one of the most effective ways is through shared parent-child reading.
We were especially impressed by the stark contrast between the above mentioned study and a 2007 study on shared parent-infant book reading by the Infant Toddler Specialists of Indiana, which showed that early parent-child book reading actually supports later language learning. Here are a few tips based on the results of this study, which we hope you’ll enjoy:
• Because shared book reading with infants is related to later language development, it is a good idea to encourage parents to establish reading time with their child as early as four months. This may create a pattern of behavior that holds throughout childhood.
• Being aware of the activity level of the infant is important, to ensure that more active infants (often boys, but sometimes girls) still have exposure to complex vocabulary and opportunities to have joint attention with their reading companions.
• Ways to make sure that an infant benefits from each reading experience include
responding to the infant’s interests, labeling pictures, using a variety of books, and using the infant’s non-verbal and verbal cues to have “conversations.”
• Although the reason why shared reading results in language benefits is not fully
understood, it is important to make time and space for parents to be responsive to their infants. Both the parent and the infant should enjoy each experience!