Poorer families not only speak less to their children, but also say different types of things

I've seen the research many times that poorer/less-educated families use less language throughout the day than wealthier/more-educated families, but hadn't seen the claim in this article that it's different types of language. This seems accurate from my experience though, except I would suggest that the ideal is somewhere in between the two examples.

I definitely notice that on the whole, most of the language I hear from less-educated families is directive around the child's behavior, while the language the more-educated families use involves more questions and is more focused on concepts. The point of the article was of course how less-educated families can make some fairly straightforward changes that can narrow the achievement gap, but I also thought there were some implications that more-affluent families are doing things entirely right, which I don't experience as accurate.

While I have definitely worked with a lot of less-educated families where I feel as if the child is only spoken to if doing something wrong (and often in a vague "be nice" or "don't do that" sort of way that doesn't actually teach language or behavior), I also see more-educated families who don't seem to ever direct behavior. In some cases this seems to cause patterns that look a lot like AD/HD or PDD, where the child can talk at length about various subjects, but doesn't know what "sit down" means or that following directions is obligatory. It seems to me that some moderation here would be ideal, where adults are asking questions and talking to the child about their world, but are also saying "no" at appropriate times and giving directions and expecting them to be followed.

In terms of books, there seem to be developmentally appropriate and inappropriate tactics I see from all sorts of families that don't seem to be related to class or education. Some of the families I work with only read the book cover-to-cover without doing any pointing to pictures, labeling, asking questions, showing the child how to point, or even letting the child touch the book. Many insist on using the exact words/concepts printed in the book even if they're not developmentally appropriate for the child, like saying "cardinal" instead of "bird" because that's how the book has labeled the picture, or talking at length about how "things on this page are red" instead of labeling them for a child who doesn't yet have a lot of words and isn't anywhere near colors. Others seem too focused on being open-ended and exploratory and might be physically present and making interested sorts of faces and noises, but the child seems to only know how to flip rapid-fire through the pages, or scratch at one page, and the parent isn't guiding the child at all. Again, moderation seems to be the key.


Suldog said...

An interesting effect I've noticed (not entirely related, but I feel like spouting off about something and you opened the door, eeka) is that less-affluent families also tend to be louder. This is only anecdotal on my part; nothing to back it up otherwise. I had quite a few friends in Dorchester and Mattapan who never acquired a true "indoor" voice. Reasons could be many, of course - learned behavior from parents who argued a lot; need to compete vocally with many siblings; undiagnosed bad hearing - but it does seem to be "po' folk" behavior more than the Richie Rich's of this world.

eeka said...

Oh hey, I never responded to this.

Yes, now that you point it out, this definitely fits with a lot of my experience. It could be any of the things you said, or it could be an education thing, where if someone has a history of not being able to get their point across by wording something more effectively or giving examples or doing any of the things that people with better language skills do, they just talk louder.

(That being said, there's also a way in which some groups of wealthier people make a lot of noise. Wealthy teenagers and young adults talking overly animatedly in coffee shops as if every single little thing in their life is so fucking important and the people two tables away apparently need to know about it as well, affluent parents in the grocery store with tots who will not shut the hell up pointing out every single thing they see and explaining the bejeezus out of it and offering the children choices about things that really shouldn't be a two-year-old's decision, etc.)