Don’t underestimate the importance of everyday chatter or conversation (‘Small Talk’), children develop and learn a great deal through ‘Small Talk’ with adults and other children.
What do we mean by ‘Small Talk’?
With babies it is the kind of talk that explains what we are doing, what they are doing, where we are going and what we can see. As they get older our verbal exchanges increase as we support their receptive and expressive vocabulary development. Through these exchanges we also support their general language development and understanding of how words are pronounced, basic sentence structure and using the correct tense.
When we talk with a child we demonstrate and model the use of language in real time so that it has meaning. For instance, a child may point and say “cat” and we would respond with “Yes, the cat is sleeping.” Or we may correct the child and say “That is a dog.” If we could we would point to a cat and explain the difference. We also correct mispronunciation of words and correct tense issues in the same way; repeating the word or sentence using the correct pronunciation or tense back to the child.
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The Communication Trust has a link to a free downloadable booklet called Small Talk which is a very useful guide for understanding how your child learns to talk from birth to age 5:
Conversational Turn Taking
We covered this a couple of weeks ago but I think it is useful to recap the main points again here as it supports the development of ‘Small Talk’:
Children need to learn when to talk and when to listen; for this to happen they need to do the following:
- Actively Listen to the other person. This means:
- Concentrate on the words being said, by blocking out other environmental noises and voices.
- For most children and adults this also means looking at the person, watching their facial expression and body language.
- Listening for the verbal cues and/or changes in the tone of voice that signifies that the person has finished speaking.
- Recognising that it is either your turn to respond by formulating a reply or not.
- Formulate a Response. This means:
- Extracting meaning – taking understanding from the words that have been spoken.
- Mentally searching for words to compile a grammatically correct set of sentences.
- In young children this can take time, not because they do not have the answer, because they just take longer to recall and formulate their responses. This is due to the constant acquisition of new language and understanding of the grammatical conventions that need to be applied.
- Communicate Response. This means
- Speaking clearly, pronouncing words correctly in coherent sentences.
- Using socially appropriate facial expressions and body language to accompany the response.
- Using the appropriate verbal cues and/or changes in the tone of voice that allow the other person to understand it is now their turn.
- Wait. This means giving time for the other person to formulate their response.
- Actively Listen to the other person.