Talking to people about the Little Kids’ Word List

Vanessa and Carmel have presented about the Little Kids’ Word List at the Australian National University Culture and Language Education Symposium (Nov 25, 2021), and the Australian Linguistic Society Annual Conference, in a symposium about Australian Indigenous Children’s Languages (Dec 3, 2021). It looks like lots of people are interested in learning about the words that families use with little kids!

A picture from the Little Kids’ Word List, with the icons parents can tap on to show which words their children understand and can say.

Sound games for children

In addition to the Little Kids’ Word List, we’ve also made games for children to play that will help us learn about how these children say and hear the sounds in their languages! There are two games, which we’ll explain here now.

In the picture naming game, children are asked to help a little girl find her lost dog. In order to help get the girl closer to the dog, children see a picture of a thing or an action and hear the word. Then the children repeat the name of the picture that they just heard. Every time they say a word, the girl gets closer to finding her dog! We use the recordings of the children saying these words to learn how children say the sounds in the words at different ages.

In the listening game, children meet a child who is learning to speak their language. Since the child is still learning, sometimes she says words right and sometimes says words a little funny. Every time she says a word, the children are asked whether she said the word right or if she said the word funny. Using this game, we learn how children hear the differences between the sounds in their languages.

Children can play these two games in English, Eastern and Central Arrernte, and Western Arrarnta, depending on which languages they hear at home. We’ve tried these games out with a few children from 4 to 11 years old. Children like the picture naming game, and they enjoy helping the girl find her lost dog. However, sometimes they have trouble playing the listening game and understanding exactly what they’re meant to do. We’re currently working on changing the listening game to make it easier for children to understand and play.

We’ve tried out the Little Kids’ Word List!

We’ve now tried out the Little Kids Word List with the parents of 10 children, 5 girls and 5 boys. We tried out the word list for kids aged 1 – 1 & 1/2, and aged 2-4. It worked well! There are a few things we need to fix and the app developer is working on those now. Parents said that it was ‘kind of fun’, and ‘like a game’. They said it was easy to use. They said that they liked having more than one language on each page that shows the words their children understand and say.

Trying out the Little Kids Word List!

The online Little Kids Word List is being tried out with families! The word list is nearly ready to be used by families and health and education people. Before it’s ready, we’re trying it out to make sure that it’s easy to use, fun to use, and that parents think that the words in it are the words they use in their families.

We’ve also been talking with groups of First Peoples parents and educators who are interested in languages and education, and sharing our work-in-progress with them. We’ve talked with educators at the Department of Education Teaching Our Languages workshop and at Children’s Ground.

A sample page of the Little Kids Word List

Talks about the Little Kids Word List

The Little Kids Learning Languages team have been talking with interested groups about the Little Kids’ Word List we are developing. We have talked with the teams at Desert Therapy and Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Family Partnership Program. We presented a paper at the Knowledge Intersections Symposium at the Desert Knowledge Precinct.

Talk given at First Nations Languages & Health Communication Symposium

Josh Roberts, Vanessa Davis and Denise Foster of Tangentyere Research Hub, and Carmel O’Shannessy presented at the First Nations Languages & Health Communication Symposium on May 13, 2021, hosted by the Menzies School of Health Research. The talk, Ketyeye akweke angkantye akaltye-irreme | Kurdu-kurdu kalu yimi pina-jarrimi | Little kids learning languages reports on the method of this project: Tracking language development of Indigenous children in Central Australia  (FT190100243). 

Why talk about picture books?

We know that reading books is important, but these books don’t have any written words. Why not?

Adults and children love to tell and listen to stories, and they love to talk about picture books. Using books with no written words has some advantages:

  • Everyone can tell their own version of the story, they don’t have to stick to someone else’s story.
  • The story-tellers can choose their own words and their own way of telling the story.
  • Every story is the right way to tell it – there is no wrong way to tell it.
  • Both the adults and the children, even very young children, can be involved in telling the story.
  • Everyone tells a very similar story, so we can easily compare the words and structures different people use to tell the stories.

We’ve found that The Monster Story (the front page is pictured here) is very popular with all ages.

The Monster Story, front page.

The children like The Guitar Story too. Click the links to see each story.

The guitar story, front page.

If you’d like to see more picture books like these contact us.

Is baby talk good for my baby?

Baby talk, or infant-directed speech, is a way of talking to very young children that is different from how adults talk to other adults.

Many cultures in the world, but not all, have a special way of talking to babies and young children. Sometimes families worry about using baby talk, because they think it will slow their child’s language learning.

But they don’t need to worry. Baby talk probably helps babies to learn words and to learn about how speaking and listening work. How?

In baby talk style,

  • adults often use higher voices, have more ups and downs in the pitch of their speech and speak more slowly
  • adults exaggerate their words and sounds
  • sounds might be longer, clearer and more distinct from each other, and
  • there are lots of repetitions and fun forms of words (e.g. “doggy” etc. in English)
  • adults usually say something to the child, then wait, as if the child might answer.

These changes probably help babies to give their attention to the person speaking, to be interested in what they hear, and to have a good feeling about speaking and listening. These things might help them learn about words and sounds, and how people speak and listen in turns.

Studies show that baby talk helps children learn more words in their languages. Children whose parents speak to them one-on-one in baby talk style learn more words than children whose parents don’t use baby talk as often. So, baby talk is good for babies!

(Reference: Ramírez-Esparza, N., García-Sierra, A., & Kuhl, P. K. (2014). Look who’s talking: speech style and social context in language input to infants are linked to concurrent and future speech development. Developmental science, 17(6), 880-891)

In the Australian language, Warlpiri:

  • there is a special baby talk style to use with very young children
  • in this style adults use fewer consonant sounds (e.g. t, n, r, l) than in adult-to-adult speech
  • the first sound of a word might be left out, e.g. ngapa > apa (‘water’)
  • some kinship terms are put into one category, e.g. mother’s side relative, or father’s side relative
  • there are short forms for some relationship words.

(Reference: Laughren, Mary. (1984). Warlpiri baby talk. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 4(1), 73-88)

These features of baby talk in Warlpiri mean that the children move from learning fewer aspects to more aspects as they grow up. And they learn important family relationship information early in their lives. As the children grow older, less and less baby talk style is used.

Warlpiri children also learn hand signs from when they are very young. For example, they learn signs for relationships, for asking ‘what’s happening?’, for saying ‘no, nothing’. Later we’ll talk about the signs that children in this project are learning.