The Origins of Babble
My five-year-old daughter began reciting this rhyme a couple of years ago. You can tell by her proud smile how much she enjoys it. Peas is our family's favorite rhyme.I eat my peas with honey,
When I asked Peter Jusczyk how parents can help their babies and children learn language, he told me something I did not want to hear. There is no news. Although psycholinguists like Jusczyk have added mountains to our knowledge of how babies learn language, the practical applications of such research simply underscore the same homespun advice: talk to your kids, read to them, sing to them. Allow them to experience the language. Above all, make the process fun. The brain--computer, calculating machine, or sponge that it is--will soak up this data, and sort out the linguistic system. There really is no trick.
But today, perhaps parents do have an additional task. In making the process fun, parents now must compete with an expanding barrage of electronic stimulation. How can you encourage a four-year-old boy to read rhymes when all he wants is to watch Batman?
Jusczyk believes parents could do more. Many of us enroll our children in gymnastics, dance, and computer classes. We encourage them to play sports. But why not, Jusczyk suggested, also form poetry clubs or literature groups for young people? These groups would encourage a playfulness with words that helps the learning process.
Once upon a time (perhaps), it was easier. Once upon a time (perhaps), children were exposed to more wordplay and artful use of language. I recently read Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's masterpiece about growing up dirt poor in Limerick, Ireland during the 1930s and 40s. What struck me about McCourt s memoir was that even though his relatives and friends were impoverished, their stories and conversations sang with lyricism. Even curses rang with poetic zest. You weren t simply an idiot. You were a bloody ignorant bogtrotter.
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