A magic little article yesterday pointing out that babies respond to the tome of someone’s voice. It’s one of those articles that make you wonder who invests in this sort of study. I remember an advert from fifteen years ago which said much the same thing. If you tell a dog that you are about have it put down in a sweet and gentle voice, the tail will wag and it will smile [insofar as dogs are able], and if you tell the same dog how wonderful it is, in a grumpy gruff voice, it will skulk away and hide. Why would children be different?
Until you can understand words, all you can rely on is the sense of it all – I do the same thing with foreign languages. I nod a lot and try to respond to the facial expressions I see and the sounds I hear.
I met a young man yesterday who has a significant language problem. He reads beautifully and can spell an enormous range of words – I was especially impressed by ‘prestigious’ – but didn’t understand a fairly basic vocabulary: terminate, tranquil etc. Another disadvantage is that he has a wonderful memory for numbers and brilliant visual perception. I am pretty sure that he can fix a car engine by looking and working it out. But because he can do all this, he has had to learn techniques to disguise how little he understands. So he says ‘No, I just don’t get that’, or ‘I can’t see the point’, when, in fact, he has not understood what was wanted.
This makes him very vulnerable in formal situations e.g. seeing the police. So when he is asked about something, he tends to give an answer – even if the question refers to something he couldn’t know at all. We did a test for suggestibility and to the fifteen questions asked – to which no answer had been given in the story – he gave fifteen responses: the woman had one child [it hadn’t been mentioned], she had broken her glasses- we did not know if she wore them], the robbers were black – and they might have been, but it wasn’t in the story.
Which is why we are all better off for responding to the tone of voice, facial expressions etc rather than depending entirely on the language used. I was over twenty when I realised that I did not understand what ‘pragmatic’ meant, and asked someone. But I was only twelve when I used to hit my sister for saying something mean to me, hissing at her re-iterate that. I couldn’t have been wronger, but no-one told me so.
When you talk to your child, make sure that you use words that can be explained or understood, and, if you can, talk nicely!