By- Kelli Drummer-Avendano
By the time children start kindergarten, they will know approximately 5,000 words in their native language. If they are raised in a bilingual (or multilingual) household, they may have a smaller vocabulary in each language, but know as many as or more words total than their monolingual counterparts. In both cases, we know that books have a significant impact on language learning. Here are a few examples of just how they help.
1. Exposure to unfamiliar vocabulary
Children pick up the vast majority of their vocabulary by paying attention to conversations adults have with them and with others. However, words that aren’t commonly used in everyday language (e.g. sizzling, marvel, delighted) can be learned through books. The more times children are exposed to a new word, the better they can acquire its meaning. Additionally, if your child is not learning a second language yet, a robust vocabulary in her native language will be a true asset when she does begin.
2. Language enjoyment
Books are a wonderful motivator to get kids communicating. When parents read to their children, they send the message that books are enjoyable. Children create pleasant memories of sharing stories and spending time with the people they love. This connection between feeling loved and language learning will stay with them as they grow. When they begin learning a second (or third) language, they will be motivated to explore books in this new language because of their gratifying experience with reading children’s literature.
3. Grammar + vocabulary
Parents may find themselves using simplified sentence structures when talking to very young children. For example, they might say, “Mommy goes bye-bye,” instead of, “Mommy has to leave.” When we read books with our kids, they’re able to learn correct grammar in the context of the story, along with the vocabulary. Again, the more often children hear something, the more likely they are to acquire its meaning and usage. Children will understand that grammar and vocabulary go together to create sentences and stories.
4. Appreciation of culture
Developing a positive view of his or her own culture and that of others is an essential part of a child’s social-emotional development. Children are naturally curious and often haven’t developed negative stereotypes that might prevent them from appreciating cultural differences. This openness to the “other” is fundamental when it comes to learning another language because culture and language are intertwined. Adults can encourage children to explore different beliefs, perspectives, and behaviors through books that offer them a window to new worlds.