Talking and learning

The relationship between talking and learning is complex. Let’s look briefly at vocabulary.

A recent article in The Economist states that four year olds in American households in which both parents hold degrees have heard 32 million more words than children whose parents are dependent on social security payments. Is this important? Many research studies say yes.

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  • Preschool vocabulary is linked with later success in learning to read and with overall achievement in school
  • A wide vocabulary enables children to understand more of what they hear and to increase their store of knowledge
  • Verbal communication between adults and children and between peers is more satisfying, deeper, wider-ranging and more precise when a wide range of words is accessible.

Obviously, the best way to build vocabulary is to talk with children. However, size of vocabulary is only one part of the picture. Also important is what words are used in which situations, and what topics are discussed.

Families and educators help children build their vocabulary when they:

  • Learn and use a few new words every week. Both adults and children need a good and ever-expanding resource bank of words to draw upon
  • Talk with children about the past and future as well as the present, and about imaginary as well as real situations
  • Use words that encourage problem-solving and hypothesising, for example, “I wonder if/how…”

It also helps not to:

  • Talk too much yourself
  • Make conversations into interrogations
  • Forget to enjoy words and word play such as rhyme and alliteration. If you enjoy word play, children are likely to enjoy it as well.

Click here to view the Everyday Learning series title authored by Laurie Lind Makin, titled ‘Talking and learning’. It is available to purchase from the ECA online shop.

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Laurie Lind Makin

Laurie Lind Makin was born in Canada. She immigrated to Australia in 1969 and has lived here happily ever since. Prior to retirement as an academic, she taught at the Nursery School Teachers’ College, Sydney College of Advanced Education, Macquarie University and the University of Newcastle. She also spent a year in Hong Kong as a Visiting Scholar in Early Childhood. For several years, as Founding Director of the Children and Education Research Centre at the University of Newcastle, Laurie, with colleagues, developed and implemented a research-based early language and literacy program called SHELLS (Support at Home for Early Language and LiteracieS). Laurie’s research and teaching have been in early childhood language and literacy in monolingual and multilingual contexts. She has published several books and many journal articles, and contributed to the development of a range of teaching resources for early childhood educators. Her latest books, Learning literacies birth to three (with S. Spedding, Pademelon Press, 2012), Live, love and learn (ACER Press, 2013), and Talking and learning (ECA, 2014) have focused on the role of both early educators and families in children’s literacy learning between birth and six years.

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