If you’re like most parents, you’ve worried at least once or twice about whether your child is hitting milestones on time. You’ve also probably wondered if there’s anything you could or should be doing to help their development – more tummy time for your infant? talk to them more? It’s hard to know what’s actually useful, and it can be really overwhelming! When it comes to language development, however, Dr. Colleen Fitzgerald, a professor at Bowling Green State University, has some easy to implement and effective ideas.
Learning language is one of the most amazing and complicated things your baby or toddler will do. Unfortunately, the English language doesn’t make it easy for them! English is full of tricky rules and exceptions, which take time and practice to master.
Talking in third-person singular is particularly complicated. For example, we say “I want,” “we want,” “they want,” and “you want,” but have a different word for the third-person singular: “he/she wants.” Another example is pronouns: “he,” “she,” “him,” “her,” and “his.” Unlike first and second-person pronouns, these convey gender. There’s also an added wrinkle – while there’s a separate masculine possessive pronoun (“his”), “her” is used for both the possessive and as an object of a sentence (“it’s her ball” and “give the ball to her“).
Learning words associated with third-person difficult is difficult because we usually talk to babies and toddlers in first and second person – it’s hard to learn words that you rarely hear.
Luckily, Dr. Fitzgerald has an easy to implement suggestion for increasing exposure to third-person words: “toy talk.” She explained that the first step is to give toys, like a truck or doll, a name, and then use those names to talk about the toys.
She said, “if you’re naming the toys, and talking about the toys, it changes the conversation to a third-person singular conversation.” This naturally exposes children to third-person singular verbs (“Teddy wants a cookie”) and third-person pronouns (“let’s give the cookie to him”). She explained, “you’re not telling parents you need to cut out modal verbs or auxiliary verbs, that would never work! That’s what so cool about toy talk – if you can get parents to focus on an object instead of ‘I’ and ‘you,’ those things come along.”
Initial studies show that teaching parents to engage in “toy talk” with their toddlers can actually shift the language development trajectory of normally-developing kids. So, on top of having some fun with your kids’ toys, you could help supercharge their language development – what’s not to love?!
Note: I had intended this to be a rewrite of a previous blog post, “Me Like Pronouns!,” with an intended audience of this post of parents with babies/toddlers (with no specific scientific/linguistic knowledge). However, in my attempt to write for a different audience, the content of the post changed substantially!