What’ that?

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Proof that children create language, not just learn language, was offered years ago by Deborah Wells Rowe, a wonderful researcher in early literacy. It all started when a group of little kids discussed a staple remover in their classroom. Talkinging amongst themselves and with their teacher about what it was and experimenting with what it did, one child began calling it a “staple regrabber.”

That very descriptive phrase appears now as part of the lexicon in our home. When my wife and I have a document to unstaple, we’ll ask, “Hey! Where’s the staple regrabber?” Kids often coin terms that our families latch onto. For example, our daughter called her baby blanket, “Night-night” for her own obvious reasons. That label also is a common part of our family’s lingo. You’ll enjoy reading the hilarious reports of such terms that are regularly shared in the Huffington Post.

Some words that we use every day were created centuries ago, yet new words and terms appear each year to explain societal changes, like “social distancing.” In fact, in 2020, 581 words, phrases and names were added to or revised in the Oxford English Dictionary, reflecting the way that the English language continually evolves.

As children live in this changing landscape of words, a huge part of their mastery of language (which is the single most important skill they will ever learn as humans) is that language is not finite. It not only changes all the time, but they can participate in that evolution through their everyday interactions with life and with each other.

The lesson here for us adults is that we must encourage children to take charge of their own language development. We must teach them that words are not just for school learning; they are creative tools for thinking and communicating. As children learn to speak and write, we must help them become fluent and comfortable in making word choices that are spot on to express their intentions to others.

What’s that?

Now, individuals always arguably have “better” words for things, actions, events or ideas. However, the determination of the “best choice” word for something should be made by the speaker or writer. The child should get to decide which words are likely to help their listeners or readers fully understand what they want to communicate. This kind of language leadership is learned and should be encouraged very early on.

A great way to begin language leadership lessons is by reading and discussing well-written books with children. Relaxed, fun reading and discussion time while sitting on the lap of loved ones will guide children in understanding and creating language in their day-to-day in-person and in-print interactions. And the continual, lifelong mastery of language should be a paramount focus of education to ensure ultimate academic and life success for all.

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4 Responses to “What’ that?”

  1. Carol Lauritzen January 7, 2021 at 6:00 pm #

    Hi, Mark,
    I enjoyed reading this so much. My sons were masterful at inventing language. We took our oldest white water canoeing when he was a toddler and he called the rapids “whee-juice”. Our younger son didn’t acquire vocabulary very rapidly but he was a master at talking around something. Presently I’m intrigued by my 19 month old granddaughter’s language development. Her parents are speaking only Spanish to her but she hears English from everyone else.
    Thanks for bringing me a smile.

    • Mark Condon January 26, 2021 at 7:57 am #

      “Whee Juice!” I love that, Carol! …and your granddaughter will be so advantaged learning two languages…and 19 months is perfect timing for planting all of those powerful language seeds.

  2. Leda Davidhi January 26, 2021 at 6:02 am #

    Excellent article and observation, especially on the words that kids commonly coin within family grounds. I am sure every family has some of those. Thank you for bringing a smile by making us reminish on good old days of our children’s childhoods.

    • Mark Condon January 26, 2021 at 7:48 am #

      Leda, I imagine everyone who reads this will recall similar language creation experiences of their own or of their kids.