What Did Your Child Just Say?

By: C.Q. Wilder, M.Ed

August 20, 2014

Since the school year has began here in D.C., I have met a lot of students and parents since my role is to support teachers and campuses with their English Language Learners (ELLs) and low-language students. Many of the children who go to the preschool/pre-k public charter school I work at are experiencing school for the first time. This can be either an exciting or scary moment in their life.

When I say hello to these children and ask them a quick question, it’s very interesting listening to them. Some children I an understand clearly while others mumble, make a sound, or just say a string of random sounds or point. These strings are apparently a “language” because before I can ask the child to repeat what they said, the parent interrupts and translates the child’s “dialogue.” It surprises me that these parents can “translate” non-English or non-grammatical words and claim that their child said “I’m doing great” for “thgil dkgilg goglg.” or from just pointing!

You are not helping your child when you “translate” their unrecognizable words. Your are not doing your child any favors. Children need to learn to how enunciate their words and the parents and family members around them need to support this. When a teacher can’t understand a child, that means more attention has to be focused on their enunciation rather then focusing on the key skills they need to learn because speech is important.

So how can you support your child?

When you talk to them:

  • speak clearly and slowly to the child
  • make sure the child understands your words
  • have them repeat what you stated to them
  • when the child responds, make sure they are clearly saying all the sounds in the word
  • if they need support with this, have them say one word at a time
  • don’t just guess what they are saying, if it helps that they point, let them point but then repeat the word(s) they are trying to say
  • don’t translate their thoughts, let them say theirs clearly

As a educator who received a Masters degree in education, I don’t expect a parent to have all the background knowledge that I do. However, if you can’t clearly understand your child, let the teacher know. We love when parents are up front with us so we can support not just the child but the whole family.

I notice that many times children aren’t spoken to directly. Some children are just yelled at, not spoken to at all, or just cussed at. This does not support your child. Encourage  word repetition to allow the child a chance to become familiar with the word(s). Make sure when you speak to them, that they can see your mouth and that you can see theirs.

Now, many parents think it’s the schools job to “fix their children” or “teach them.” However, as a parent, you are their first teacher and longest teacher. You are with your child more than anyone else is. Don’t wait till your child arrives to school for them to start learning letters and sounds, for example. Some children come completely prepared and are able to learn more things that will accelerate their education now and later in their future. You want your child experiencing school so it pushes them to excel.

In conclusion, remember to speak clearly to your child and make sure they are speaking clearly to you. If you need support, contact your teacher or school and ask for resources or to speak to a speech pathologist. The teacher doesn’t expect your child to come to school already prepared for 1st grade in preschool but by supporting your child at home early, this gives them a better chance of success later in life.