Nav: Home

Language-savvy parents improve their children's reading development, Concordia study shows

June 14, 2019

Some languages -- like English -- are tricky to pick up easily.

Young children learning to read and write English often need to identify patterns in words to be able to read and spell them. For example, knowing the "Magic E" syllable pattern can allow a child to understand why an E at the end of a word like "rate" significantly alters the word's sound from "rat."

Also, knowing that the words "one" and "two" are irregularly spelled helps prevent the child from trying to sound out the underlying sounds when seeing the word in print.

Parents who understand such language complexity -- what is known as reading-related knowledge -- are able to spot the difficulties and explain them. They also tend to pass on those skills when they listen to their children read, which in turn helps reading development.

These are among the findings of a new study, published in the Journal of Research in Reading, by two researchers from Concordia's Department of Education. They report that parents with higher reading-related knowledge are not only more likely to have children with higher reading scores but are also more attentive when those children read out loud to them.

The value of feedback

Seventy sets of six- and seven-year-old children and their parents participated in the study. The children were administered reading tests and were then provided with reading material at a level just above their performance level. This extra difficulty was intentional, as it provided opportunities for the parents to step in and lend a hand.

The parents were instructed to help their children as they normally would while their children read to them. The sessions were videotaped, transcribed and coded for evidence of parents' verbal and non-verbal feedback.

"We were interested in looking at two forms of feedback," says Aviva Segal, who co-wrote the paper as part of her now-completed PhD with her supervisor, Sandra Martin-Chang, associate professor of education. "The first was commenting on how the child was doing, the second was measuring how the parent responded when the child hesitated or made a mistake."

The results confirmed their beliefs that parents with higher reading-related knowledge offered more praise and less criticism to their children than parents with lower reading-related knowledge. They also found that parents with a better ear for language tried to explain the relations between graphemes (letters and letter patterns) and phonemes (the smallest sounds of spoken language) to their children more often.

"We found that reading-related knowledge in parents is associated with a good 'tag-team' of feedback," Segal says. "Parents with higher reading-related knowledge tend to give more praise, which sustains children throughout their learning, while at the same time they more often teach their children critical connections they need in order to read."

The learning was not all one-way, Segal notes. She says there were incidences when parents appeared to learn something about language while their children made mistakes reading to them.

"The parents sometimes seemed to have an 'aha!' moment, when they realized that their children were consistently stumbling on one particular obstacle. In essence, when they were able to make sense of some of the errors their children were making, parents noted their children's errors were the result of the language's trickiness and not the fault of the children," she reports.

"So, through these exchanges, parents might have been increasing their own reading-related knowledge based on what their children were displaying."

Lessons for teachers

This study has significant classroom implications as well.

"Reading-related knowledge is an important tool that many schools of education gloss over. This can lead teachers to provide negative feedback and criticism, which can cause self-doubt in children and discourage them from taking risks," says Martin-Chang.

"Teachers with high reading-related knowledge are often more positive and better equipped to offer precise feedback to their students. They have a sense of how hard it is for the child," she adds.

"Being able to target the right skills while at the same time praising the child's efforts will make the classroom a more positive setting. This can be achieved through increasing teachers' reading-related knowledge, which is a core focus of our training at Concordia."

Segal and Martin-Chang both believe parents should be encouraged to play with language and to pay attention to its characteristics.

"Have fun with it. Listen to song lyrics with your 7-year-old and figure out what rhymes," urges Martin-Chang.

"Even at the dinner table, play with words that start with the same sounds. When you do this, be sensitive and positive because these fun bonding interactions can become especially powerful."
-end-
Read the cited paper: 'What does an O say when there's no E at the end?' Parents' reading related knowledge and feedback during child to parent reading.

Concordia University

Related Language Articles:

The world's most spoken language is...'Terpene'
If you're small, smells are a good way to stand out.
Study analyzes what 'a' and 'the' tell us about language acquisition
A study co-authored by an MIT professor suggests that experience is an important component of early-childhood language usage although it doesn't necessarily account for all of a child's language facility.
Why do people switch their language?
Due to increasing globalization, the linguistic landscape of our world is changing; many people give up use of one language in favor of another.
Discovering what shapes language diversity
A research team led by Colorado State University is the first to use a form of simulation modeling to study the processes that shape language diversity patterns.
'Speaking my language': Method helps prepare teachers of dual language learners
Researchers at Lehigh University, led by L. Brook Sawyer and Patricia H.
The brain watched during language learning
Researchers from Nijmegen, the Netherlands, have for the first time captured images of the brain during the initial hours and days of learning a new language.
'Now-or-never bottleneck' explains language acquisition
We are constantly bombarded with linguistic input, but our brains are unable to remember long strings of linguistic information.
The secret language of microbes
Social microbes often interact with each other preferentially, favoring those that share certain genes in common.
A programming language for living cells
New language lets MIT researchers design novel biological circuits.
Syntax is not unique to human language
Human communication is powered by rules for combining words to generate novel meanings.

Related Language Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...