BULLHEAD CITY — When’s the best time to begin teaching a child language skills?
As early as possible, says Renata Zangl.
Zangl has written a new book, “Raising a Talker,” designed to help children younger than 3 get a head start on their language skills. She recently gave a presentation for the staff at Little Scooters Preschool in Bullhead City, focusing on activities adults can do with infants and toddlers to help them become talkers.
Zangl said that developing language skills early in life gives those children an advantage as they continue to learn.
“You build a good foundation in the first three years,” she said. “That’s the best time to provide language skills that will give them an advantage into the school years and beyond.”
Strategies outlined in the book include repetition and using words to go along with gestures.
During her presentation, Zangl also used small children’s love of watching things disappear and reappear to reinforce language lessons. She identified a stuffed animal as a duck each time she hid it in a wooden box, and again each time she brought it out.
One strategy she supports is to model proper pronunciation for a child, instead of correcting when she pronounce, for example, “duck” as “dah.” She also said it’s important that caregivers talk and engage with their eyes, words, and hands.
For children closer to 3, Zangl said, a parent or educator should go beyond merely using words that describe what items are, and get into discussing textures and body parts.
She said the language foundation anchors later thinking and social skills.
“A child will have an easier time getting along with other children if they can express their feelings,” Zangl said.
She said research has shown that children who fall behind in language skills early will find it difficult to close that gap as they age.
Zangl, raised in Austria, has worked as a researcher in Europe and at Stanford University and the University of California San Diego.
She is a member of the Society for Research in Child Development and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She has published numerous books and peer-reviewed articles on language learning and presented her work at national and international conferences.
According to her biography, she has spent thousands of hours studying infants and toddlers, including tracking how their brains react when they hear baby talk, how they suck on pacifiers to hear more speech and how they play with language.
“Raising a Talker” is Zangl’s first book in English and her first published outside academia. It contains information designed to help parents or teachers build and assess a child’s language skills.
Her visit to Bullhead City was a stop on a tour through Mohave County. Zangl also gave presentations in Kingman and Lake Havasu City.
Little Scooters owner Jody Howick said the Arizona Early Childhood Education Association sponsored Zangl’s presentation, a professional development activity for the staff.
She said she thought the information Zangl shared was valuable.
“It went amazing,” Howick said. “Our teachers are learning a lot.”