Most people think of language as something we use to express our thoughts so that we can communicate with others. It is, however, so much more.
Lev Vygotsky was a brilliant developmental psychologist who explained: “Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them.” In other words, since we as human beings think in words, we literally use words to create our thoughts. Therefore, language is nothing less than the very fabric of our thinking.
There are thousands of words that each represent a totally unique concept, and very often when young children learn to understand and actively use a new word or expression, they begin to think and reason differently. According to developmental psychologists, this is one way in which verbal intelligence expands.
As an example, children cannot think or talk about how one event causes something else to happen prior to learning the meaning of the word “because” and the concept that it represents. Similarly, they have no way of differentiating between feelings of sadness and anger, excitement and happiness, nor any other emotion, before learning the words that describe these emotions.
Just as the material that a tailor uses to make a piece of clothing helps to determine its use or the quality of the ingredients that a cook puts into a dish influences its taste, the words that people have available in their vocabulary as they generate thoughts have a tremendous impact on their understanding and interpretation of the world and the complexity of their reasoning.
What’s more, children who develop better language skills early in life are more likely to develop to their fullest potential. Why? Because learning takes place on the fringes of what we know. The more children know, the more they can learn.
Therefore, here are a few pointers to enable you to pay close attention to your child’s language development:
- Language development comprises an expressive vocabulary (the number of words that children actively use as they speak), as well as receptive vocabulary (what they can understand) and communication skills. Examples of communication skills include being able to take turns during a conversation, ask and answer questions and keep information in their short-term memories to remember what others have said earlier.
- All of us understand more than what we can say. In fact, we can expect our pre-schoolers to understand more than eight times the number of words that they use in their expressive vocabulary. As an example, although typical six-year-olds can use only 2400 words, they are usually able to understand around 20 000 1.
- At three years of age, most children understand instructions that contain three key words, such as “Please, put this towel on the bed in your sister’s room.” They have an active vocabulary of 900 to 1000 words and a receptive vocabulary of many more. They regularly use words that describe actions or objects, such as ‘slow’ and ‘small’ and combine three or more words into a sentence, for example, “Where is Daddy going?” They can also use language to play imaginative games, talk about things that are not present and take an interest in playing with words, for example, rhyming words 2.
- Most four-year-olds use somewhere between 1500 to 2500 words and their sentences comprise of at least five words 1. They understand more complex language structures and can be understood by unfamiliar adults almost all of the time. It’s also typical for them to ask many ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ questions and take part in longer and more complicated make-believe play sequences with peers. They also enjoy simple jokes – even though their jokes may not make sense! This is an exciting age as children learn to view things from other people’s point of view at this age. It’s great fun to hear four-year-olds talk to solve problems, have conversations with friends and describe what they have done and what they might do 3.
- Typical five-year-olds use about 2200 different words as they speak and they use “and”, “but” and “then” to make longer sentences1. They also have a wide vocabulary of nouns and verbs and can describe familiar items and actions by describing their purpose, for example: “I spy with my little eye – something that we use to cut paper”. At this age, children use correct grammar to talk about the past, present and future, including irregular past tense verbs, such as wrote, flew and sang. They’re also able to describe and ask questions about a picture, put pictures into a sequence to tell a story, retell a simple story, talk about recent events in some detail and talk about what might happen4
Researchers say there is evidence that diet and supplements can help children to overcome speech delays as they support the optimal development of communication networks in the brain 5,6,7. As an example, polyunsaturated fatty acids supplementation can improve specific language impairment in preschool children. (To read about this study, go HERE.)
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IMPORTANT NOTICE. NESTLÉ® NANKID® 4 is not a breastmilk substitute and is formulated to meet the changing nutrition needs of healthy children older than 3 years.