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Meaningful Differences Reflection



Meaningful Differences in Language and Culture

Julia Hart

The George Washington University

Meaningful Differences in Laguage and Culture

As an educated parent from a professional, financially-secure background, I will expose my child to a language-rich environment from birth. She will be spoken to, listened to, and responded to throughout her childhood. Because she comes from a professional household, my child will have heard over 30 million words by age three (Hart & Risley, 1995, p. 132). The vast quantity of language she hears, in addition to the quality of interactions she experiences, will lead to distinct advantages in later schooling. I will speak to and interact with my child in the manner my parents spoke to and interacted with me, passing down our cultural priorities (Hart & Risley, 1995, p. 133


Quality Matters

Hart and Risley (1995) explained that all parents observed in their groundbreaking study of 42 families with young children engaged in a number of quality parenting practices, with respect to language, each day. These practices were categorized as They just talked, They listened, They tried to be nice, They gave children choices, and They told children about things (Hart & Risley, 1995, p. 77).

Just talking is a practice commonly used by many parents. My child will be exposed to a high volume of words through everyday interactions. As an infant, she will hear a steady dialogue describing the world around her. While walking with the baby in a sling or stroller, I will speak to her about the sights we see. Oh, I see birdies in the trees; it must be Springtime and I hear a fire truck coming; its so loud. Someone must be in trouble. I hope the fire fighters can help them are just two examples of times in which a child can be exposed to language. Diaper changes and feeding times are also ideal for language. That diaper sure is wet. Lets get it changed or Were having peas for supper. Theyre green. Green peas are phrases I may use while changing or feeding my child. Hart and Risley (1995) asserted that when parents talk, they expose their child to a steady stream of diverse words and expressions associated with all the varied objects the parents and children handle in the varied places they interact (p. 97-98

). Even through one-sided conversations, the child will learn about words, language conventions, and culture. As the child gets older and begins to initiate conversations, the tone will change to one of responding to and expanding upon the childs words.

Listening to and responding to children is another widely-used parental practice. Hart and Risley (1995) wrote that parents in their study tended to know that simply a moment of exclusive interest, a comment, or repetition of the childs utterance would serve as an invitation for the child to continue (p. 80). My child will grow up expecting to be listened to because her utterances will be valued and responded to from infancy. Her comments will be repeated back to her and expanded upon. Repetitions simultaneously confirm, model, prompt, and gently correct what children say (Hart & Risley, 1995, p. 110). Children learn to speak by listening and practicing, so parental attention that elicits further speech will prove beneficial to the childs overall language development. If my child says baby, I might say, Baby. Baby eating. Undivided parental attention and interest has a highly rewarding effect on children who are learning to speak. Hart and Risley (1995) stressed the importance of parental response: Parent responses that reflect active listening [...] may be the most important to helping children learn words and meanings (p. 108).

Positive interactions encourage children to continue speaking. Hart and Risley (1995) found that frequent parent-initiated negative imperatives (e.g., stop, dont) have an adverse effect on a childs development. The researchers found that professional families tended to have a prevailing positive tone in their interactions, and welfare families generally had a negative tone. My child will hear positive comments and receive redirection rather than only negative imperatives when her behavior needs to be corrected. If my child reaches for an object she is not allowed to touch, I will redirect her attention by handing her a toy that is safe for her. There are times when it is necessary to tell a child no or stop, but the overall tones of interaction should remain positive.

Offering a child choices, even when none really exists, maintains a positive tone. Hart and Risley (1995) explained offering choices as giving two options but also as simply asking the child yes or no. Offering a choice is a way to prompt language from a child. It also shows that the childs opinion is valued. Choices, rather than imperatives, create a generally positive atmosphere for the child. My child will receive many choices in her young life. Not only do choices prompt language use, they also create autonomy. Would you like milk or water? and Should we play upstairs or downstairs? are simple questions that will show my child that her wants are listened to and that she has some control. Offering my child choices, when possible, also will prevent future power struggles when I need her to follow my instructions.

Hart and Risleys (1995) fifth measure of quality interactions relates back to their first measure. Both telling children about things and just talking involve parents speaking to children as worthy partners. Speaking to children and listening to their responses provides conversational practice. Hart and Risley noted that parent initiations may have an even greater impact [than responses] over the long term. [...] The topics parents choose to initiate about reflect the concerns of the culture, the behaviors that are considered appropriate, and the aspects of the environment that are worth noticing and talking about (p. 108). Telling children about ongoing activities, expanding and elaborating on their comments, and providing new words and information are all powerful tasks parents take on. As stated above, narrating every day occurrences, and my childs actions, will give my child new vocabulary and understanding. If my child picks up a leaf on the ground and says leaf, I will tell her, yes, red leaf. If she continues by saying tree, I will expand her comment, leaf fell from tree. By talking to her about events that have already happened or that will happen, she will learn that words can be used to describe not only the present but also the past and future. The amount of language my child will hear from me will have a profound effect on her language development, as well as her social and cognitive development. Quantity of Language

The quality factors stated above will have a positive effect on my childs language development. Just as important as the quality of the language my child will hear is the quantity. My child will be spoken to all day long. If she is not in my care, she will be with a nanny who knows she must speak to the child with a positive affect, even though the child may not be using words yet. As my child begins to use words, she will receive positive feedback and be encouraged to use language. I was exposed to positive parenting behaviors during my own childhood and had the opportunity to practice them in the classroom and in the homes of children for whom I have cared, so my child will benefit from my years of experience.

Cultural Factors

Hart and Risley (1995) stated that during their early years of life, children are uniquely susceptible to the culture of adults (p. 180). The prevailing culture in their home influences parent-child interaction. Before children begin out of the home care or preschool, their parents provide most of their cultural and linguistic input. Hart and Risley noted differences between the professional, working class, and welfare families in their study.

Professional families use more words, richer nouns and modifiers, and employ a greater number of communicative intents. Hart and Risley (1995) asserted that this reflects a culture concerned with names, relationships, and recall (p. 133). Professional parents ask more questions of their children, expecting children to attend to information and recall it when necessary, skills needed for lifelong learning and advanced education. These parents encourage children to ask questions of their own, to play with language, and to develop a thorough understanding of word uses. Professional parents expect their children to attain a high level of education and speak to them as such. All of these factors add up to children who hear more language, hear higher-quality language, and use more language than their working-class and welfare-recipient peers.

Welfare families are concerned with maintaining customs and controlling behavior. Parents utilize imperatives and prohibitions to teach obedience, politeness, and conformity (Hart & Risley, 1995). Rich nouns and modifiers are unnecessary in their pursuit of survival. Uneducated parents tend not to strive to prepare their children for higher educational achievement, rather, they prepare their children for the minimum-wage jobs they have. These parents think realistically about their childrens prospects and seek to prepare them for work in which success and advancement would be determined by attitude, how well the children presented themselves, and whether they could prove themselves through their performance (Hart & Risley, 1995, p. 134).

Working-class families do not have one set culture that defines them all. There is often a mix of beha