Who can resist the adorable babbling of a one-year-old child? We all know children learn speech through hearing it spoken around them. They hear it from the womb. I’ve seen a newborn turn her head to the voice of her older brother. She had heard his voice daily as he waited for her birth.

A child understands words much earlier than he can speak them, especially if key words follow his routine. He recognizes “hungry” and “go outside” and “bath.” A mother reading and talking daily to her child is the best teacher.

Soon the toddler starts shaping sounds with his mouth and creates his first words. We cheer and repeat his attempts. Once he tries to mimic words, that’s when our job as examples of good enunciation and grammar becomes important.

Yes, grammar.

Each language has its rules of sentence structure, sets of pronouns, and variations of verbs. Knowing when to use these rules properly is learned when we are young. Speaking correctly to your children while they’re learning to talk will have a big impact on how they read and write as they get older.

Sometimes there are physical difficulties. When ear infections affect the comprehension of certain sounds, and when children have speech impediments, hearing words clearly and precisely is extra important. Talking face to face with their parent or caregiver helps them to watch mouth and tongue movements while hearing the tones.

It’s cute to hear childish attempts of speech, but there are dangers in mimicking their baby talk. Too many youngsters think that “birfday” and “perdy” are correct, because that’s how their parents say it too. Giving a pet name to a favorite toy or comfort object is fine, as long as the child knows the real name for the object such as “baba” for “bottle” or “deedee” for “teddy.” Encouraging and allowing baby talk only slows down communication and creates opportunity for frustrating situations.

Pronouns are often a typical obstacle in speech. Not only do toddlers have to differentiate between male and female (he/she) and singular and plural (he/them), but they also need to determine subjective and objective (he/him). Then there is “you,” which can be any of them. No wonder they get confused!

It gets even more difficult when combining two pronouns. Many adults have trouble. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “They gave their best for you and I”? We hear it so often that it doesn’t sound wrong, but it is. Sometimes children may say, “Him is bigger than me.” They are using the wrong form of the pronouns.

Corrections

“They gave their best for you and (for) me.” (Thinking the “for” will help.)

“He is bigger than I (am).” (Thinking or saying the other verb will help.)

Subjective

I, he, she, they, we (used as the subject or after being verbs—am, is, are, was, were)

Objective

Us, him, her, them, us (used after the verb or after a preposition—for, between, to, etc.)

Children soon learn to add an “s” to a word to make it plural and “ed” to show past tense. They may apply these rules to every plural or past tense, which creates cute results. “I saw two mouses.” “I sweeped the floor.” These mistakes are actually intelligent errors, for they have applied known rules to new words. These will easily and quickly be remedied if they hear the correct form and not a repetition of it by their parents.

When a child uses a word incorrectly, as in “I see’d two gooses.” I say a similar sentence back to him, correctly. “I saw two geese, too.” It lets him know that I understand him, giving him a subtle correction. If he doesn’t catch on to the difference after a few attempts, I explain his mistake and ask him to repeat it correctly. I focus on only one or two problems at time. Too many corrections will inhibit a child’s willingness to talk at all.

Learning by talking should be part of daily life. Identify objects with specifics words: robin, poodle, oak. Use adjectives: rambunctious, slithery, crunchy. Use interesting verbs: scurry, glide, tangle. It will fill a child’s mind with a rich array of vocabulary.

Reading books and talking about the pictures will also increase their vocabulary and opportunities to practice their language development.

Let’s teach our babies grammar by talking to them.

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.