We found Elli and Sammi playing with a marker they had successfully dismantled on the hardwood floor. Elli had the ink stick in her mouth. The first thing out of a parent’s mouth? “No, no, no!” Because of a series of such experiences, Elli now knows the word “no!” It was also the first word she produced after mama and dada. The cutest part, she always says it in threes, just like me. So if I try to take away something she shouldn’t have, I am also chastised by Elli with her “no, no, no!”
Since, unknowingly, we got her to say “no” by constantly saying it to her, I thought I’d try a little experiment. We’ve been working on the word “up.” Anytime I pick her up, I say the word, “up.” I say it several times as I bend down, put my hands under arms and then stand back up. This has been going on for about a week. Yesterday after our usual “up” routine, I handed her to Brent and walked off to do something. As I turned away, I heard her little voice, “up, up, up.” Success!
For children to learn new words, they must be exposed to those words over and over and over again. Then, they have to develop two different types of knowledge of the words they’re learning: receptive and productive. First children develop an understanding of the word. They learn to recognize it every time it’s said as the same word that was said before. Then they attach meaning to the word. Once they understand the word they have receptive knowledge of it. This means they understand it when it’s said to them. The next step is to develop productive knowledge. Now the child must learn to produce the word. When they can say the word and use it correctly in context, they have productive knowledge. When both types of knowledge are acquired, the child has fully incorporated that word into their vocabulary. They “own it” so to speak and can start to experiment with it in various situations.
This leads to the second reason the picture of Elli’s blue tongue shows how babies learn new words. In order to get Elli to show her tongue, I asked her to “give me kisses.” This is a phrase she has recently shown that she understands. She’s also at that fantastic stage where kisses are open-mouthed and slobbery. The first time I saw that she understood this phrase was when she picked up a doll. As she was holding the doll I said, “Give the baby a kiss.” And she did! Right on top of the baby’s plastic head.
In order for babies to learn language, they need lots and lots of exposure. The more we talk to our babies, the more they are able to recognize specific words and attach meaning to them. To go the extra mile with language development, it’s important to be extra observant of what words your baby responds to. Figure out what words your children know receptively and then build on that vocabulary to introduce new words or experiences. I have been able to explain complex ideas to Sammi because I can break them down into words she knows. But that’s only because I’m paying attention to what she has proven she undertands!
What are some phrases or words you were surprised to discover your baby knew?