Creating meaning

What do we mean? From words – to phrases – to sentences: how do children gradually learn to combine the thousands of words in their vocabulary in a meaningful way – to support effective listening and speaking? Vocabulary is only the start. The words and concepts that I blogged about last week can have millions of potential combinations for spoken language.

Talk! All of the words and concepts must be applied to contexts – only then do they have any real meaning at all – because meaning is mainly contextual. Let’s think about the question words – who, what, when, where, why, as well as how? Talk is often about people, what happens to them, time, places, reasons why. Without this level of understanding – talk is meaningless for many children. And so is reading – as stories too are mainly about those six question words. So talking about everything at home and at school, as well as at the dentist, doctors, park, cinema, on journeys to and fro, and so on – is the only way to extend the words, and help to develop children’s vocabulary towards meaningful conversation. Schools need to allow far more time for children to talk about new concepts and topics that they are presented with in lessons. At home, parents need to talk with children about what they have done at school. More talk = more in-depth learning.

Talk is also about past, present and future. Whether we are talking about the past in history, the present in maths or science, or the future, as what we are planning for Christmas, words must have a sense of time. Only by talking extensively can our children learn to use syntax and grammar correctly, and to understand and use the precise nuances of language. Is a sentence that a child hears – a question, statement or instruction? Are the words being listened to intended to persuade, warn, explain or challenge the listener’s thinking? Is the word ‘turn’ in a sentence referring to moving direction or turns in a game?

It is easy to see why so many children fall behind in their learning as language develops in increasingly complex ways – both in and out of the school context. One thing is very clear – effective listeners and speakers have the tools to become effective readers and writers. So please can we encourage our children and young people to regard listening and speaking as a valid and essential element of learning in every area of life. Their future depends on it.

More on this in my books for parents. Find out what your child is learning.

« Back to Blog