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Mormon Parenting: Giving children the gift of language

Published: Friday, Feb. 15 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Is texting ruining our language?

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We read a lot in the Book of Mormon about the importance of language and of records. Neither is any less important today. How well our children can speak and write will make a major difference throughout their lives.

Well, isn’t it the job of the schools to teach our kids to read and write and speak properly?

Yes and no. Of course, we all want our children to do well in school, and we recognize the importance of English classes. But as in all aspects of our kids’ education, the buck stops with us, the parents.

And a good argument can be made for the premise that the single greatest influencer of a child’s language and speaking skills is the example of his parents.

We lived for four years in England and came to appreciate how well the British use their language. At the same time, we became increasingly dismayed at how poorly most Americans speak and write.

When an exterminator or a plumber would come to our house in England, it was predictable that they would be wearing a coat and tie and carry on articulate conversations. And 7-year-olds in our kids’ class were often more well-spoken and possessed of a better vocabulary than most American adults.

The British take pride in their language, and to be candid, take better care of it than we do. And how well one speaks often influences how well he or she thinks. Clear, precise language leads to clear, precise thought.

We live in a time when slang, texting and abbreviations on keyboards seem to have hijacked real language.

And it is up to us as parents to keep the epidemic of inarticulate gibberish from infecting our children.

The best way to do it is by example.

Use precise language with your children, even if there are words they don’t understand. They will figure out a lot of them from context, and you can define words for them whenever they ask or whenever they say, as kids so often do, “what?” (A British child, on the other hand, would politely say “pardon?”)

Speak clearly and in complete sentences to your children. Use expressive adjectives. Play little word games as situations arise. “What other words are there for ‘big’?” “How else could you say ‘beautiful’?” “What are some synonyms for ‘happy’?” “What are some antonyms for ‘confused’?”

Take turns giving one-minute extemporaneous talks at the dinner table. See if a child can talk intelligently for 60 seconds about “doorknobs” or “paint” or “toothbrushes.” You go first on some subject that the kids choose for you and show them how to work in a story or a demonstration or a metaphor.

Help each other overcome bad language habits, such as constantly saying “you know” or “sort of” or “and stuff.”

Have them try writing poetry or short descriptive paragraphs about new things they see while on vacation or while riding in the car.

Have them keep a journal and make a little entry in it every day and then praise every good word they write.

Make the striving to be clear and articulate and to use precise words a part of your image as a family.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."

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