Make every word count

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Make every word count

The Thrive by Five report (( was released this year. The research explored how five-year-olds are doing in South Africa: are they thriving or merely surviving? Are they ready for school? The findings help to explain the challenges in our formal education system. One area of focus was “emergent literacy and language”, which covers the child’s ability to communicate effectively. At age five, 1 in 4 children are falling behind their milestones and 1 in 5 children are falling far behind. These children are not set up to succeed and learn. Literacy and language development must start younger. It must start when the child’s brain is primed to learn.

Why is talking important for baby?

In the First Thousand Days of life, infants need responsive nurturing care every day to grow and develop well. Part of this responsive nurturing care is providing opportunities for early learning or stimulation, and one of these key ingredients here is TALK or providing a language-rich environment. It isn’t merely the sounds of words, like from a radio or television – it is the back-and-forth interaction with another person that provides the brain with the stimulation it needs to lay the foundation for future communication, language development and literacy.

When does the brain learn this?

This foundation starts early in life – in pregnancy and peaking in the first year of life.** During this time in a child’s life their brain is primed to absorb, learn and create connections that will later be the foundation for learning to read and write at school. Long before children can speak, or write, or read, their brain is creating the neural connections needed for this learning to take place.

“Young children naturally reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions, and gestures, and adults respond with the same kind of vocalizing and gesturing back to them.”** “By the first year, the parts of the brain that differentiate sound are becoming specialized to the language the baby has been exposed to; at the same time, the brain is already starting to lose the ability to recognize different sounds found in other languages. Although the “windows” for language learning and other skills remain open, these brain circuits become increasingly difficult to alter over time. Early plasticity means it’s easier and more effective to influence a baby’s developing brain architecture then to rewire parts of its circuitry in the adult years.”**

It is therefore vitally important for all babies to be in language rich environments where they are hearing many words – especially from their primary caregivers. This happens through everyday interactions like babbling, vocalizing, speaking, reading and singing to baby – even before birth.



Churches and communities can share this important message and encourage families to be more actively speaking with their young children. Let us all play a part in seeing young children grow up in language-rich spaces. Watch this recording of our June 2022 Gathering where we explore the importance of Talk and how we can encourage families in this important work.

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