What are words for?

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Why is it that the only songs that ever get stuck in my head are always from the ‘80s? “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship can drive me mad for hours. How about the quirky (heck, they’re all quirky – it was a quirky decade) Missing Persons hit, “Words”? Do you hear me? Do you care? Yes, I do. I just wish I could stop playing air synthesizer!

The band’s singer Dale Bozzio laments that her words fall on deaf ears, but words in general don’t – at least not on infant ears. Findings from a recent study claim that talking to your niños is crucial to their academic success.

Researchers discovered that it’s not just the quality of words being spoken to babies that is instrumental in their vocabulary development, but the sheer quantity. So, put away your Mozart and Baby Einstein CDs and start platicando.

I was excited to hear this because … well, I like to talk a lot. I just haven’t felt comfortable blabbering to my 7-month-old until now.

The researchers recorded and counted the words spoken to children of working professionals and those whose families were on welfare, and found that children of professional parents heard 2100 words in an hour while those in welfare homes only heard 600 words in the same time period. By the time the children reached the age of 4, the poorer kids had heard only 13 million words compared to 48 million words by the richer kids.

This, of course, isn’t the only test to determine what a child’s academic achievements will be, but it seems to be a rather simple way to raise the bar of possibility.

I used to laugh under my breath when I overheard seemingly affluent parents talking to their infant as if the baby understood what they were talking about.

Mommy: “Now, Taylor, we talked about how that isn’t necessarily the best behavior for you to be exhibiting.”

Taylor: “Bah-bah!”

In the future, I’ll still chuckle at the content but applaud the word count. So what if Taylor doesn’t know a single word Mommy’s saying?

Hmm … now that I think about it, my own version of baby talk might have a few strangers laughing at me.

My wife recently pointed out that grammatically stunted “boo-gee bah-bah” and “goo-bee joo-bee” combinations followed by “Look at Mama!” might actually cause our son to repeat a grade down the road. (She didn’t even know about the study.)

Since then, I’ve started to have somewhat awkward, one-way conversations with my little tyke. But even when I feel like Dale Bozzio singing “Words,” I keep at it. He does hear me – and by golly, he does care – so I press on even when he stares at me as if I were the adult voice in a Charlie Brown special.

My wife said it’s actually helped my conversation skills. Indeed.

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