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July 01, 2009

New research indicates that reading to children is not very effective in developing language skills

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Research carried out by Dr. Frederick Zimmerman and others at the UCLA School of Public Health indicates that reading to children is not an effective way to develop language skills. Engaging babies and children in a basic interactive conversation is far more effective. The report suggests that it is better to talk with children before they go to sleep than to read to them. Even if a baby cannot form words, their basic responses to a conversation help develop language skills.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, 'The researchers looked at 275 families with children up to the age of four and measured their exposure to speech from adults, other children and television. The children were later tested for their "language score" to see how well they could talk and converse themselves, even at such early ages.'

Children exposed to conversations scored six times as high as those who were being read to. They had a greater depth and range of vocabulary and made fewer mistakes - possibly because conversations give adults the chance to correct common grammatical errors. Those who mainly listened, whether to stories or adult conversations around them, showed some improvement but it was described as “weak.” Those who were sat in front of the television showed no improvement but also, despite some commonly held beliefs, showed no negative effects on their language either.

“What’s new here is the finding that the effect of adult-child conversations was roughly six times as potent at fostering good language development as adult speech input alone," Dr Zimmerman said. The average toddler is exposed to 13,000 words spoken directly at them during an average day and 400 "conversations" with adults, the study found. The report recommends that parents should make more use of these opportunities. “It is not enough to speak to children. Parents should also engage them in conversation," Dr Zimmerman added. “Kids love to hear you speak, but they thrive on trying speech out for themselves. Give them a chance to say what’s on their minds, even if it’s ’goo goo gah.’”

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