The environment has a very significant influence on the development of children’s speech. Educators can, by proper procedure, accelerate the maturation of the speech of their pupils and prevent various disturbances in its development. Educational mistakes can slow down or stop the formation of speech, and they can also cause neurotic disorders to those sensitive children’s functions.
The positive influence of the environment on the development of children’s speech brings the following results:
- Faster pace in speech development
- More complete maturation of speech
- A higher level of grammatical development of speech.
- Greater expression skills
- Richer vocabulary
- Absence or slight expression and rapid disappearance of physiological speech disorders (physiological stuttering)
- Prevention of pathological mispronunciation
- Prevention of stuttering
- Rapid remediation of possible speech disorders
In order to achieve this, it is necessary for educators to adhere to some principles in their relationship with children’s speech, which we classify as the concept of speech hygiene.
Educators will best improve the development of children’s speech if they deal with the child as much as possible from the first day. Already during breastfeeding, bathing, and changing the baby, the mother encourages the birth of the function of speech when she addresses her child with words from miles away. If it also experiences speech in connection with the expressions of its mother’s love, it will gladly accept it as a means of identification with the environment and as a path to her affection. A warm, sensitive treatment of the child is the best motivation for the diligent practice of speech.
Educators need to talk a lot with the child, to address it with words even before it understands them. The speech function starts to activate only when the child is prompted to listen to someone else’s speech. The older the child, the more it needs to be talked to, so the educator’s monologue will gradually turn into a dialogue – a conversation with the child. When a child begins to imitate the speech of adults, they should serve it as a more complete model of mature speech. The child should be spoken to slowly, clearly, well articulated, grammatically correct, with as rich a vocabulary as possible.
It is important that educators avoid hasty speech and superficial, insufficiently clear and partial pronunciation of words. Already in the second year, the child can recite short poems with simple rhymes – the so-called “counters” – e.g .: “The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout…” etc.
This is performed in the form of a game with the child where the words are accompanied by lively gestures and cheerful parental behavior. Then picture books with short and quite simple text can be shown. When reading the text, one should be patient, ready to answer any questions with which the child stops the reading, constantly show a detail of the picture that illustrates a word in the text. It is natural for a child to demand that the same text be repeated to it many times. This desire must be granted because a poem or story leaves a trace in the formation of a child’s speech only when the child has heard it several times.
When a child begins to utter the first words it is necessary to encourage it in these attempts, acknowledging to it every new success in mastering speech. Every time the educator hears a new word from the child, he will show with a remark, gesture, or at least just a facial expression that he has noticed it and that he is satisfied. Recognition of success by the environment is a strong incentive for the child to continue practicing speech. The child is also encouraged by the experience that it can achieve more with better and skillful speech, that it can use it to influence adults and children older than it more successfully.
Children’s mispronunciation of words should not be understood too well. If parents become completely accustomed to incorrect children’s speech and show the child that they fully understand it, it loses the motivation to accurately and completely express its wishes and emotions. When parents readily respond to every child’s unarticulated voice or to a strained syllable and satisfy a desire expressed by the child in a completely incomprehensible way, then complete speech is actually unnecessary to it. This creates cases of children who do not speak for a long time or do not speak properly for several years. A child can mispronounce words at the end of preschool age, even when it starts school, it can speak in incomplete sentences and rudely ignores grammar rules, and its vocabulary is poor. Therefore, it is necessary for the environment to show a certain lack of understanding of the child’s mispronunciation of words and to hesitate to fulfill the child’s wishes if it does not try to express them in a somewhat understandable way.
Educators who cuddle a child often tend not only to understand its mispronouncing of words too well but also to imitate such immature speech. They themselves are happy to speak like it and receive the child’s vocabulary. Parents often use distorted children’s expressions out of sympathy, and later they are surprised that the child does not know how to speak properly for a long time. It happens that the child already goes to school and still speaks incorrectly.
Once a mother with her seven-year-old daughter came to our counseling center. She visited us at the suggestion of a teacher who noticed that the girl had problems with her speech. So she advised the mother to seek advice on how to correct her child’s speech. In talking to us the girl vaguely articulated rustling consonants, they substitute “s” and “sh”, “c” and “ch”, or instead of them she pronounced voices that are in the middle between “s” and “sh”, or “c” and “ch”. In doing so, she was timid, indecisive and dependent in her answers: before answering our questions, she addressed her mother, waiting for her to eventually answer. Only when her mother told her what to say did the girl dare to say it. The mother talked to us in a completely normal way, but when she addressed her daughter, she changed the way she spoke, switching to the same kind of speech that the girl used.
It was not difficult to guess the reason for the incorrect speech. The child’s lack of independence in talking to a stranger was a symptom of spoilage. And the blunt speech was an expression of the child’s identification with the mother’s speech. In further work with the mother, we learned that other adult family members also speak to the child in a dull way, thus supporting the deformation of her speech. It was only when both the mother and the other educators in the family realized their mistake and started talking normally with the girl that her speech matured. Then the other children at school no longer mocked her.
The child’s physiological mispronunciation of words should not be imitated, but it should not be corrected. Some parents have a habit of constantly interfering with their child’s incorrect speech, warning the child of speech irregularities. In doing so, they demand that the child pronounce a voice or a whole word more correctly, get angry if it does not do it, imitate it, threaten it, and sometimes punish it. This most often occurs when a child’s speech development lags behind other children’s. We knew, for example, a father who put his little son to kneel on a corn every time he could not satisfy his parents’ request to recite a poem with quite correct articulation. After some time of such speech learning, the boy began to stutter.
When educators become too involved in children’s speech and constantly draw the child’s attention to the shortcomings in its way of expression, sooner or later negative emotions related to speech will appear in the child. The child becomes mentally tense when it speaks, it is overwhelmed by a feeling of insecurity, it is more and more afraid to speak because it has in front of its eyes the objections of its parents that make it nervous. Speech is a very complex, automated, and at the same time unusually sensitive function of our nervous system. If we burden it with fear and other negative effects, there is a danger that it will be disturbed, because such emotions can slow it down and deform it. Speech is most easily disturbed before it has fully matured, so it has not yet acquired sufficient resistance to the negative influences of the environment.
Systematic correction of children’s speech errors slows down its development and prolongs the period of mispronunciation. At the same time, this provokes resistance against the educator, which can manifest itself in various defiant reactions and other forms of disturbed behavior of the child. If the pressure of the environment on the child’s speech exceeds the limit of the child’s emotional tolerance, it will not only become defiant but may also react by stuttering, as it happened to the little boy who had to kneel on the corn because of the incorrect speech.
Such disturbances occur even more frequently when educators want to forcefully correct a child’s physiological stuttering. If the environment fixes the child’s attention to this transient defect in its speech, it is very likely that the child will one day stutter. The more mistakes educators make the more this probability is higher in the general upbringing of such a child.
Children’s mispronunciation of words, stuttering, and repetition of syllables should be completely ignored. Educators should not pay attention to them, they should simply not hear them. There is no need to show the child that we are bothered by the shortcomings in its speech. Instead, any progress in the development of children’s speech should be commended, and its immaturity should be contrasted with the beautifully crafted, clear, correct, and intelligible speech of adults. Listening to such speech, the child will correct its speech a little by itself, in order to become similar to the educator as soon as possible. With this, the more persistent and richer its emotional connection with the adult environment will be.
A preschool child should be given the opportunity to listen to proper speech as often as possible. This is done by contact with people who speak nicely, who like to talk to the child and read to it or tell stories in an interesting, attractive and at the same time verbally correct way. If the child does not have enough opportunities to imitate its educators in this regard, it should be taken to various children’s events as often as possible and enabled to listen to children’s shows on radio and television. But nothing can completely replace a child’s direct contact with a skilled reader of stories and fairy tales. It is the emotional relationship that is created here between the narrator and the child that contributes a lot to the progress of children’s speech.
In the first five years of life, let the child listen only to its mother tongue. People who mostly or constantly speak another language should be removed from its immediate surroundings. Only when the child’s speech is fully developed can it be taught to speak a foreign language. It is also useful for parents and other adult family members to speak the same dialect. Because it imitates the speech of its surroundings, it will also receive speech defects from it. That is why it is desirable that the child is not raised by people who suffer from speech disorders, such as mispronunciation of words, stuttering or hasty speech. If the child is exposed to such educators, it is necessary for them to practice correcting their speech as much as possible.
When there are any disturbances in the child’s speech, it is necessary for the parents to immediately seek the advice of an expert, before they do anything themselves. Unprofessional help to children who stutter or suffer from some other speech difficulty can only make the disorder worse.