Talking or reading?

Which is more important–talking or reading?

Talking and reading work together toward the same goal: language learning.

When you read to your child, he learns new words and ideas that might not come along in an ordinary day. This is especially true if you add comments while reading to connect the story to what your child already knows.

Porridge is like oatmeal. You like oatmeal, don’t you?

The value of reading for language learning is huge–you won’t hear many argue otherwise.  Some days you read a lot to your child, but on other days it just doesn’t happen. What then? Does this mean that language learning was on hold for the day? Reading to young children is important, but is not the only way that children learn language. Conversation counts, and that’s great news for busy parents.

Conversation has the edge over reading in a few areas. Let’s consider one: flexibility. Book reading has basic requirements–a reasonably quiet place to sit, a good book, and time. All of that takes planning, since other activities must be stopped to share a book with your child. Conversation, on the other hand, wins on the flexibility factor since it can take place in the middle of what is already happening. Conversation can be an addition to what you are doing instead of a replacement.  How would this work, and does it make a difference? Here are a few examples of quick, quality conversation starters and what children can learn:

Laundry: Here’s your green shirt. Do you remember what we did yesterday when you wore your green shirt? Let’s toss this in the washer to get all clean again! 

Talk to learn benefit: Vocabulary building, recall, cause and effect thinking

Grocery shopping: Look at all the apples. Did you know that different kinds of apples have names? This one is Yellow Delicious, and that one is called Red Delicious. Do you think they look delicious?

Talk to learn benefit: Observation and attention, comparisons, vocabulary

In the car: We’re going to make a quick stop at the post office first before we pick up your sister at school. What can we buy at the post office? 

Talk to learn benefit: General knowledge, thinking of events in order

Adding quality conversation doesn’t make the task take longer. Fixing a snack for a two-year-old–silently or with an interesting explanation–still takes about the same number of minutes.

Can’t stop and read a book? Be glad that language learning doesn’t have to go on hold! Narrate what you are doing, describe what will happen next, or ask your child for his ideas on what supplies are needed for the job. A two-minute conversation that happens now has value–using the quick moments as they come during the day gives language a boost.

Don’t stop reading to your child, but give yourself credit for talking. Since quality conversations help young children learn language, it’s a natural step to look for ways to increase the talk to learn benefit.

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