Back-and-Forth Talk Good for Children's Language Skills

Study finds particular value in conversations with children in addition to reading, storytelling

MONDAY, June 29 (HealthDay News) -- Talking with small children, not just to them, may be particularly important for healthy language development, according to research published in the July issue of Pediatrics.

Frederick J. Zimmerman, Ph.D., of the University of California in Los Angeles, and colleagues analyzed data from 275 families with children aged 2 to 48 months. For six months, children wore a device once a month for 12 hours that recorded surrounding speech and television sound for later analysis. Children's language capacity was assessed periodically using the Preschool Language Scale, Fourth Edition.

The researchers found that the number of conversational turns between children and adult caregivers is associated with language development scores. The effects of adult word count -- which was merely adults speaking near the child -- were partially mediated by conversations between adults and the child. Any adverse effects of television exposure may be due to less opportunity for adult-child conversation.

"Parents should continue to be encouraged to provide speech input to their children by talking to them, reading them books, and by telling them stories. At the same time, it should be made clear to parents that an important goal of this talk is to elicit talk from the child. Reading and storytelling should be punctuated by questions and exchanges, and it may be appropriate to counsel parents to encourage parent-child conversations," the authors conclude.

Several co-authors are employed by a non-profit organization that developed the data-collection equipment used in the study.

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