The marvel of speech development is this issue's focus as our series on early childhood education continues.
"Da-da, da-da," the baby babbles. The parents become ecstatic. "Did you hear that, Honey? Did you? Robert just called me!" New parents are thrilled. They are as enthralled with their child's first vocal glides as — or perhaps even more than — the baby is with their words. Parents yearn for their child to speak as they watch him or her grow in size and ability.
The wonder of it all
One of the wonders in the growth process that continually amazes parents is the development of speech. Speech development is so vital to life and interfacing with others that God planned vocal expression to begin immediately at birth. With the first cry of the newborn, beginning skills directly involved in the talking process come into play. Then the sucking and swallowing movements of feeding continue to build this skill. Air, the breath of life, plays a monumental role in speech. By the end of the first month, parents find that baby can be calmed by their soothing voices. Besides crying now, he makes additional sounds. He sighs and grunts in his throat. He is getting more muscular control. He has been listening to his parents and their tone of voice. He is making associations — he is learning that speech has a definite, important meaning in the world he has entered. In earlier articles in this series, we covered the importance of speaking. Speaking often to the baby from birth is vital. When done often and correctly, parents seed the ground for an abundant harvest of words to be used in fine sentences later on. From baby's cries, grunts, coos, crows and whimpers come babbles in repeated syllables. He enjoys them and repeats his creations. Great vocal experimentation takes place now! Parents note inflections in their child's beginning efforts. His sounds rise and fall according to pleasure or dissatisfaction at the moment. It is important for parents to approve, for then he babbles all the more. The babbles have a definite rhythm. A child grows into understanding new words , but , please remember, at the child's own rate. Many factors enter, such as health, family history, hearing difficulties or other problems. The original "da-da" or "mama" is not usually considered talking, as these are just sounds made by the infant in vocal experimentation. Real talking usually begins at the second year of life, after he has spent the first year hearing, listening to tones and words, associating sounds, names, objects and situations with meaning. For true talking must have a meaning or purpose, just as true reading must. It is not merely parroting words. Both talking and reading need life experiences to have meaning and be effective. Hearing and listening must precede true speaking. Hearing and the process of talking work closely together. A baby both hears and begins the speaking process from — and, in a real sense, before — birth. Air, used in speech, is also used in transmitting waves of sound into our ears, where they are changed into electrical waves carried to the brain. We are indeed "wonderfully made," and babies are tremendous evidence. That this little bundle of humanity can learn so much in so short a time is miraculous! Parents must continually create the right environment for speech development by talking, providing activities and making proper materials available. They should help their child enjoy sounds and enrich his life with clear, pleasant and effective speech.
Developing speech patterns
Following the child's first true words, which usually occur at between 10 and 18 months of age, repeating the parents' words and a lot of "words" of his own making that serve as a kind of bridge, the child moves on to phrases. These are groups of words that begin to have meanings but are not always clear, as pronunciation is in the developmental stage. The child can be further helped here by parental conversation. At age 2 a child can be using 200 recognizable words. Parts of speech begin to emerge. Parents may think the child's first acquaintance with grammar and language construction will come at school, but no! Proper — or improper — use of speech begins much earlier, at home. It is puzzling at first. Think of it: The child has to learn verbs, tenses, singulars and plurals, prepositions and later conjunctions, all the while steadily increasing the vocabulary by connecting words to life experiences. He is also copying the speech patterns of his family. Speech habits are learned from parents. Mother, especially, has a big role here.
What about speech problems?
Speaking is a complex skill. The movement of the speaker's lips, tongue, larynx, jaws and teeth must take place precisely and in correct order, and it all must be done in fractions of a second. At the same time, mental processes of forming ideas must be taking place. It is so important that a child have much time to practice and use his speech! It is-like an adult learning a new language. Statistics show that nearly a million children in the United States alone are seriously handicapped in the area of speech, and the problem is international in scope. Speech-handicapped children make up the largest single group in special-education programs in our schools. Speech problems are rooted in a variety of causes: Hearing may be impaired, which could cause a child to perceive sounds in distortion or not at all. Articulation problems then result — he cannot imitate what he has not heard. A cleft palate may make it difficult to build up enough air pressure inside one's mouth. The sounds of p, b, d, g, t and k, which are explosive sounds, cannot be made easily. Dental abnormalities may prevent or hinder a youngster's proper placement of lips or tongue to make certain sounds. Frequent thumbsucking can alter the shape of the mouth. Injuries to the brain may cause difficulty in controlling the muscles or memory required for speech. Mental handicaps, emotional shock and bilingual conflicts may enter (though many children have no difficulty with two languages). Stuttering (also termed stammering) is a speech disorder in which interruptions of speech flow occur. These interruptions can be prolonged, blocked or repeated. The speaker may not be aware of them initially. When we bring the problem to the speaker's attention by our reaction of negativity, he can react by struggling. He could then avoid or postpone speaking. His fear of talking now makes the situation worse. Stammering may make its appearance in the preschool years of 3 to 5, when the child is developing speaking ability. But it can occur later. Stammering can be associated with shock or it can occur gradually. It is believed that stammering most often occurs when a child is pushed into speaking before really being ready or able to make complete sentences. Forcing a child to use the right hand when he prefers the left may also be a contributing factor. Be aware, though, that a period of non-fluency in your child's speech is normal. This is when a child hesitates in completing or organizing thoughts. Stammering is different. Here he has trouble speaking ideas. He can repeat starts of words. Parents should do all they can to make the young stammerer unaware of the difficulty. Listen to him and what he is saying, not how he talks. Reduce as many stresses as you can. Speak clearly in short sentences. In this way he has a much better chance to overcome stammering as he grows.
Surprising cause of speech problems
Most speech problems are not caused by physiological or neurological disorders. About 75 percent of speech defects occur in children who have the ability to reproduce sounds in language correctly, but do not! Faulty training and faulty learning are to blame. Some children omit and some substitute sounds. Others distort or add unnecessary sounds. Some parents become comfortable with the sounds their child makes and are not aware of these problems until they are pointed out by teachers at school or by the child's playmates. Other children have no need to learn to talk. Their parents or older brothers and sisters do all the talking for them! Be aware of this. Give the child a chance to speak for himself. A child not stimulated to speak can have difficulty developing the skills needed for it. A child's speech can show, to lesser or greater degree, patterns of shyness or aggressiveness. Some children, because of their own shyness or overprotectiveness by their parents, find it difficult to be apart from their parents. They may not try to reach a mature level of speech. There could be other reasons, too. The child may have a temporary hearing loss and perhaps is not hearing certain consonants. He may jumble syllables, displaying difficulty in perception. A child, too, may revert to baby talk when a new baby enters the family.
Children need help
All children need help in developing speaking skills. It is necessary that the child talk freely. He must not be made to feel defeated by continual correction of mispronounced words, especially if he is simply not yet able to repeat them correctly. Present a given sound in isolation. Prolong that sound when speaking. Help your child develop awareness. Make sure, of course, that you are producing the sound correctly. A child enjoys sounds — and grows. He learns best in a warm, secure, relaxed atmosphere. Then he is able to make maximum utilization of all senses. And all senses enter into play: The lips must be spread in certain ways to produce the sounds of m. band p. These are usually learned early. The lips must be in a slight smiling position for s. S is the most misarticulated sound in the English language. You can help him say it by not letting the tip of his tongue show behind nearly closed teeth as he says sssss. The tongue is behind the lower front teeth. Air going over the tongue in a "slushy" manner causes a lisp. Exercises can help to send the air centrally out of the mouth. A small hand mirror can help as the child "sees" his sound. Let him put his hand near your mouth, too. The tongue must rise for I. t and n. Unless the tongue is very tight, the child can adapt. Besides being useful for breathing and smelling, the nose helps our speech sounds of m. n and ng. It is a sound box. Rhymes and songs, especially the refrains, enable a child to participate distinctly, because the rhymes demand it. Humor in them will cause the child to want to say them over and over. It can help to have your child repeat poems and songs that contain letters and sounds with which he is having difficulty. This positive, loving encouragement brings the child such joy that "speech-correction anxiety" isn't hindering progress. He should begin responding at the level he should be on. Don't push the child because of your anxiousness. If your child detects that you're anxious — and he will if you are — it may hinder speech growth. Have fun with oral language. Bring your child into conversations. Ask about what he has done that day. Play word games using categories of items. Repeat sounds in nature. Provide toy animals and practice making their sounds. Syllable games are excellent for listening, speaking and reading training. First explain how to count syllables (red, 1; ba-by, 2). Play on! Add words with more syllables as your child grows in understanding. Make these games, not exercises. Practice in creative thinking takes place when you start a story and have your child add the next development. This fires imagination. Play games with storybook characters. Give clues. Have your child guess what character it is. This is good recall practice and shows how well your child has listened, infused thoughts and can speak information in words and sentences.
Make speech fun
Respect your child as a speaker. He may be conveying to you more than you realize. A child is proud of his accomplishment and thrives on praise. He is learning to put his mind and mouth in gear together. He wants his family to understand what he is saying. Voice quality will be growing. It will reflect his family and his personality. Make speech fun! Keep your approach warm, pleasant and purposeful, but relaxed and unpressured. If you do, both you and your child will know and show that speech is surely special.
Language: Hallmark of Character Dexter H Faulkner
How many times have we heard the expression, "Practice what you preach!"? Many parents prefer this one: "Do what I say, not what I do!" What kind of parents are we? The training we give our children is only as effective as we are by our examples. Much of what they learn comes from what they see and hear us do and say. What kind of example are we setting in our speech? It's often said that words are cheap, but the truth is that words can exact a high price — not so much in monetary currency as in the currency of an uneasy conscience, an undying quarrel or a family disagreement. As long as words remain unspoken, we are masters of them, but once spoken, our words can master us. The apostle James certainly did not think words were cheap. Take time to read James 3:5-8. Proverbs 15:1 refers to the healing power of words: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." One whose words are charged with hate and anger may well be overcome by an unexpectedly calm and modest reply. He does not anticipate that his cutting remarks could be answered in such a soothing, healing manner.
"A word fitly spoken"
Proverbs 25:11 comments, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." When our words are spoken at the appropriate time, they possess great appeal. That is when they are most likely to be heard and acted upon. A person is known by his or her words. Just as dirty words reveal a dirty mind, so clean words reveal a clean mind and a pure, clean heart. And what a positive effect a parent's use of language can have on a child! "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). Grunts, abbreviated expletives and vulgarities are not symbols of clean and honorable Christian living. If you are forced to hear such words every day on your job, you must be careful not to allow them to stay long in your mind. Swearing, bathroom terms, profanity and wrong uses of God's name have no place in our vocabulary or that of our children.
Abusing God's name
The common abuses of God's name are obvious to any true Christian, and he will zealously avoid using or thinking them. But other, more subtle, vain uses of God's name can creep into our language, and we should just as diligently guard against them. These wrong words and phrases are euphemisms substituted for blatant misuses of God's name, but are just as wrong. Consider, for instance: Oh, gosh! Golly! Egad! Geez! They may sound innocent enough at first, but think about them a moment and it's obvious that they really are slang expressions for God's name. Be sure your children are aware of the double meaning of these common words.
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul gives four standards we can use to change our old speech patterns for acceptable ones. What are these standards? Paul instructs us, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." Notice: • First, what we say must be wholesome, be of some value, have a richness and have some redeeming quality. • Second, what we say must build up, not tear down or destroy. Even corrective comments should be said in uplifting ways. Our motive should be to edify the listener. • Third, what we say must need to be said at the time when we say it. If a person is not ready or willing to listen, or if you would merely be saying "I told you so," what you say is not needful. • Fourth, and most important, what we say must give grace and mercy to those who hear. Our words should contribute to others' happiness, be worth repeating and be said with the proper tone. And, it should be pleasing to anyone who accidentally overhears — our children, unconverted mates or relatives. Remember, our speech is one way to let our light shine to others, especially our children. Our example is one of the strongest influences on their development. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21). Our language is a hallmark of our character, and language will reflect the depth of character our children have, too. If we realize the force words can have, our lives will be easier and more rewarding.