| May 18, 2006

Feature Article - May 18, 2006

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Feature Article - May 18, 2006

Hearing isGolden

by Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist

“I can’t hear you!” Shauna, who is five, sings with gusto, “La la la la la.” Hands covering her ears, Shauna believes she has successfully ended the argument. To Shauna, her sister’s silence is golden.

But is silence golden?

Research done through the University of Washington shows that the ability of six-month-old infants to distinguish speech sounds correlates with language and reading skills later on. Many children with language and reading difficulties have trouble distinguishing the basic sounds of speech. Reading and writing depend on the ability to link speech sounds to letters and letter combinations. Before children can make the letter-sound connection, they must be able to hear clearly the individual speech sounds (phonemes) found in words.


According to linguist Noam Chomsky, and supported by studies from Cornell University , babies are born with brains that are hard-wired to learn any language in the world. They innately use complex grammatical structures that can take adults years to analyze and comprehend. Nonetheless, though born highly adept and receptive to languages, babies must be immersed in the sounds of that language to speak it. Whether English, French or Japanese, within their first three years of life children use the correct rules of whichever language they hear consistently.

Young babies also quickly learn to distinguish between consonant and vowel sounds. Between 4 and 8 months of age babies’ coos and gurgles turn into babbling. Around 9 to 12 months babies begin to figure out that words symbolize specific objects or concepts. There is no mistaking this stage when a one-year-old stretches both arms upward and with pleading brown eyes says “Up!” Between 18 and 24 months a vocabulary spurt takes place, predictably after children have acquired between 30 and 100 words. By 3 years of age, children’s desire to know “Why?” usually sparks rapid development of their expressive language skills.

Though hard-wiring in the brain may lay the foundation for language and literacy development, it is parents and caregivers who maximize their children’s inborn abilities. Parents make the sounds of language easier for children to distinguish. They slow language down, speak in shorter sentences, point to and talk about pictures in books, and emphasize syllables of words through singing, nursery rhymes, finger plays and poetry. They stick magnetic letters on the fridge and talk about the letter that makes the first sound in their child’s name, then talk about other words their child remembers starting with that same sound.

Parents also look for warning signs of hearing loss or impairment and seek help from an audiologist or speech pathologist (though Early Expressions Preschool Speech and Language). Parents notice if their child:

Stops babbling early

Frequently gets colds and ear infections

Does not understand someone unless the speaker is facing them

Does not say single words by 12 months

Does not respond when called

Needs things to be repeated

Is silence golden? As I think about Speech and Hearing Month celebrated during May, I believe ‘Hearing is golden’ is the better adage.

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