Listening: A Critical Ingredient for Language Learning

The ‘L’ in OWL stands for LISTENING.  Listening is often thought of as a passive activity but being a good listener means being an active participant.  This means that not only do you hear what is being said, but you process it and respond appropriately.  Being an active listener with a child means that your response to what they say builds on what they already said rather than taking the conversation elsewhere.  Let me provide an example:

2 year old Suzie is at Christmas dinner at Grandma’s house.  Suzie’s mom buckles her into her high chair, puts a small plate of dinner on her table, and gives her a spoon and fork.  Suzie’s mom then gets up to get her own plate of food.  Suzie says “Mommy, food.” (She could have meant ‘mommy, here’s my food’, or she could have meant ‘mommy’s going to get food now’ but we don’t know because nobody at the table responded to her comment).   Suzie’s mom goes to get her own plate, returns and sits down beside Suzie.  Again, Suzie says “Mommy, food.”  Suzie’s mom says, “Yes, here’s my dinner.  What colour is the broccoli?  Eat your dinner now.”

Suzie’s mom started out her comments in the right direction, taking Suzie’s comment of ‘mommy food’,  giving it meaning and repeating it back with more advanced syntax and vocabulary (‘yes, here’s my dinner’).  But then things go downhill because she asks a question and redirects Suzie according to her own agenda.  An improvement would have been to say, ‘Yes, here’s my dinner.  I can’t wait to eat my green broccoli, and turkey with red cranberry sauce; I am sooo hungry.’

This reply provides richer vocabulary: green, broccoli, turkey, red, cranberry, hungry, as well as language around cause and effect: ‘I eat because I am hungry’ being the subtext.  By sticking with Suzie’s comment and expanding on it rather than asking a question and then redirecting her daughter’s focus, mom would have provided a much richer language example for her and left room for Suzie to continue the exchange with her own comment rather than shutting down the conversation with ‘Eat your dinner now’.

By listening to your child and providing a more language rich response on a topic that your child is already engaged in, you are paving the way for conversation, something that asking questions tends to stop in it’s tracks.  Again, if you are used to peppering your child in an attempt to get them to talk more, this new approach will take some time and practice.  Stick with it; the results will be worth it!

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