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) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VWlE5G7o6QNjF8ojXXPCQLWO6Ho7UwWz/view?usp=sharing 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. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1B6jZE3RRJYN8UANk_0oDQhdlNXchCBSF/view?usp=sharing

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.

Will learning two languages make my child confused?

No! More people in the world speak two or more languages than one language. Learning two or more languages has lots of benefits.

Young children’s brains are like amazing computers. They learn a lot very quickly.

For example:

  • At birth, babies can distinguish between two languages that are quite different, e.g. Japanese & English
  • At birth, babies can tell the difference between most human speech sounds, even in languages they haven’t heard yet
  • By about 12 months old, children have learned which sounds are in the languages that they hear regularly.

Children start to hear important information about languages early. This shows up when they start making sounds. For instance, when 6 months-olds babble, some of the babbling is the same from every child, but some is different because of the different languages they speak. Children who learn a sign language babble too.

Our brains are very capable of learning several languages! As children grow up, they learn to tune into aspects of each of their languages, and learn about how they are similar and different.

When children learn more than one language, they usually mix words in the languages at some point. Does this mean that they don’t know that there is more than one language? Probably not. It probably means that they are still learning all of their words. It’s very common to mix words together.

A bilingual can communicate with more people, in more cultures, and be part of more social contexts.

Studies show that being bilingual or multilingual has advantages for cognition, or ways of thinking. Bilinguals do better on some activities than people who speak only one language do.

(Reference: De Houwer, Annick. Bilingual first language acquisition. Multilingual Matters, 2009)