Monday, 9 October 2017

Oral Language... the verbal child...

Oral language is such an interesting topic... as a mother of twins where I was told they would pick up language slower... and then being a bilingual family (English Swedish) where I was told this would also impact negatively their language learning I focussed a great deal on language... When the twins were infants I would have them up in my lap one at a time for "language" training... which essentially was interacting with them and letting them see how my mouth moved - thus seeing how sounds are made... I also reinforced the sounds that they made... if it sounded like a word then i would repeat it as a word... and of course sometimes I just made the sound... and I talked and read and sang a lot with them (although I think some of the singing was for me to keep calm as the two infants cried in the process of being tired and wanting to sleep and getting them into bed...) We lived in Australia for a while when they were 6-12 months... and what I noticed there (where we spoke nearly only English and no Swedish) was that they started making the sound "titta" which means look in Swedish, but due to the fact I did not reinforce this sound as a word (through my body language or verbal language) this sound disappeared from the repertoire... but came back again when we moved back to Sweden. This has given me a practical understanding of how my interaction with children is essential to support oral language development. All three of my children have English as their mother-tongue, despite living in Sweden... all three picked up Swedish silently - understanding what others said, but replying in English... and all three started speaking Swedish fluently all of a sudden... the girls at age 6 when they started a Swedish school, and my son at age 4 when wanting to communicate with a Swedish child in a playground (all three went to an English speaking preschool, although the girls attended a Swedish preschool for a year, where sadly they picked up no Swedish, which concerned me, and surprised the English preschool when they started who had expected the girls to have extended Swedish language and limited English... had no-one interacted with my children at that preschool...? as their English repertoire had been very broad and Swedish non-existent. My husband took some convincing to speak Swedish with the children, as he felt that he was missing out on communication... later he realised that he should not have worried and should have spoken only Swedish with them much earlier... hence the difference between my son speaking Swedish at age 4 and the girls at age 6).
I have found singing to be a great way to learn language... especially action songs... I have mostly worked with Swedish preschoolers... but all have picked up English through the songs I have sung with them in English... it is a joyful way to learn, and they get to sing if they want, not forced to learn... so there has always been the enthusiasm from their side to pick it up... I might not be the best singer in the world, but I sing with joy and enthusiasm, and this is contagious... 
Reading stories, new stories as well as the same one over and over again, and then messing about with words and the plot has been a great word to expand the oral language...
Rhymes and rhyming words and basically just messing about words has also been a great way to support children with their oral language development...

"Have you seen a whale with a polka dot tale?" "have you seen a rat with a stripey hat?"
and in Swedish... "Har du sett en råtta sitta på en potta?" "Har du sett en hund går på Gröna Lund?"
Then it is just to make up more and more together... and laugh together. I think laughter helps a lot.

Over the years I have worked a great deal with children with a language that has been different from the rest of the group... and have found that through songs and stories the children have soon been able to develop an oral language to play with the other children... but role-play as also worked there... and I would support at times with some "sports-casting" to provide the link between the children when language was proving a barrier... 
Also helping the other children to pick up a few words of the new language so that it was inclusive... as oral language is about interaction and conversation...about being inclusive... I have also worked philosophically with children, where i wrote down their words and ideas verbatim at every meeting. The clear structure of the meetings has also been a great way for children to develop their oral language... that LISTENING helps them... Often the youngest children are good at listening, as they use this skill to pick up language... but then the focus is always on the voice and expressing and the art of listening is forgotten. By helping the children to become better listeners they also become better talkers... the children become teachers for each other in their language development.




I also think that learning about language development as an educator is important... as part of my masters i focussed on language development and was fascinated by the pragmatic language development as I felt is was often over looked by educators... children can sound like they are picking up an oral language and communicating with others... they have vocabulary, the grammar is developing, and pronunciation is on par with their age... yet there lacks a red thread... they can often go off on tangents in a middle of a conversation, often misunderstand others, struggle to keep the red thread of longer dialogues etc...
My research into language development enabled me to see things that I had not really been looking for... and this is why it is important to keep reading and keep learning.
brain research is forever discovering new things about how the brain works and how we learn... which is so important for us as teachers - after all we are there to enable learning.

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