The researchers found that, in an average day, children hear about 13,000 spoken words from adults and participated in about 400 adult-child conversations a day.
Assessed separately, factors positively associated with language development included each additional 100 conversations a day and each 1,000 word increase in the number of words spoken by adults and heard by children. When looked at alone, TV was negatively associated with language development.
But, when the three factors were analyzed together, the only one that stood out was conversation between adults and children.
"The more a child speaks and interacts with an adult, the better idea a parent has about where the child is," Zimmerman said. "Although it's mostly done unconsciously, parents will provide feedback and correct mistakes. They'll also tailor their speech to the child."
"This study supports what we recommend to families," said Maxine Orringer, a speech-language pathologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "When there's conversation, you get practice communicating. The child can make a mistake, and that helps parents understand what the child's perception is, and it can help them correct those mistakes," Orringer explained.
"Parents can give a child words by talking to them about what they're doing, such as, 'I'm putting on your pajamas now.' But give your child the opportunity to talk, hopefully without the rest of the noise in the environment," she added. "If parents can carve out some conversation time -- maybe at bath time or at dinnertime -- that's a wonderful thing."
Adults should remember that "sometimes it's quicker and easier just to tell children what to do, and it's difficult to slow down, but that's what's important for language development," Zimmerman added.
"Conversation should always be a two-way street," he said.
The Nemours Foundation has
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