LANGUAGE IS A GREAT POWER. Skills in understanding language, expressing ideas and concepts eloquently, and decoding language in print are fundamental to school success, social ease, and abstract thinking.

First Words

Babies' first vocalizations are throaty coos. By about 4 to S months, babies produce some consonants, especially those that use the lips---such as m, n, and p. When babies combine such consonants with vowel sounds and double the combinations, adults respond in delight "mama," "papa," and "dada" are very important words. Through reinforcement, teachers give word meanings to these early sounds!

Expressing Ideas With Words

Next, babies begin to babble long strings of "jargon"combinations of vowels and consonants with intonations that sound like statements, questions, or even commands. By the end of the first year, many babies produce their first words, such as doggie (or woof - woof), li for light, nyum - nyum for food, ba - ba for bottle or blanket, joo for juice, nana for grandma or banana, and choo-choo for toy train. Babies say some of the sounds in a word, such as cakah for cracker or duh for ducks they see in the park or in a picture book. Single word sentences are called "holophrastic speech."

By the end of the second year, toddlers are putting two and three words together: "My toy!" "Dat kitty-cat!" "Me so mad!" "Where mousie?" "Who dat?" "Daddy fix!" "Want cookie." Because little words like the or is are left out, toddler talk is called "telegraphic speech."

Adult negation forms ("I don't want meatballs" rather than "No me want dat") and full questions ("How do I draw that, teacher?") appear during the third year. Only during the later preschool years do children learn to interpret passive questions ("Was the car hit by the truck?") and to decode and answer "why" questions accurately.


Some children find it difficult to coordinate their tongue, lips, palate, and other language-production parts. So toddler pronunciation may still be frustrating to understand. Toddlers often say shishy for fishy, lellow for yellow, or wun for run. Clear articulation is present usually by 3 to 4 years of age.

How Can Teachers Help Boost Language Learning?

Teachers need to make language precious from the beginning. Here are some important actions that you can take in your own program.

With infants:

  • When babies coo, smile and encourage them by delightedly talking in response to their coos. This "turn-taking talk" galvanizes babies to communicate more with you.
  • Promote an early passion for books and written language. Point to and label animals and creatures in picture books. Snuggle with babies as you talk about the pictures.
  • Use "self-talk." As you go about daily activities, describe to the baby what you're doing. "I'm getting cereal because I can see that you're hungry."
  • Use "parallel talk." Describe what the baby is doing. "You're grinning. I see that you're happy today."

With toddlers:

  • Expand a bit on toddler talk. If a toddler shouts, "Doggie dere!" as he points to a dog outside the playground, confirm the toddler's words: "Yes. A doggie is running on the grass. He's a big white doggie with brown spots."
  • Encourage toddlers to tell you what a picture is about. If you are doing a felt board based, for example, on the book Caps for Sale* by Esphyr Slobodkina (Scholastic Inc.; $3.95), be sure to have the toddlers call out the color that each monkey needs for the cap on his head.
  • When toddlers are wrestling for a toy, encourage them to "Use Your Words!" A toddler can imitate your words. "Jason, tell Melissa you need your blocks to build with." r Model social language skills. Say "Please" and "Thank you" and "Good job!" so that toddlers become familiar with language that smoothes social situations.
  • Encourage choices, promote children's recall from memory, sharpen observation skills, and encourage planning and if-then syllogistic reasoning skills as you ask openended questions and wait for a response.

Teachers are gatekeepers into the rich territories of language eloquence and literacy. Together with parents, teachers serve as primary guides who introduce children to the delights, byways, signposts, and fruitful gardens of language.