This post from Chris Gigliotti originally appeared on Quora as an answer to the question “What’s the one thing that your parents did for you that sets them apart from others parents?“
I can tell you my experience with raising my daughter, now eight years old. My wife and I decided to speak as normally as we could to her from birth onwards. The only thing we did differently was enunciate some words more dramatically in order to show her the proper pronunciation. At seven months, she said her first word, “giggle.” At eighteen months, she was able to understand simple sentences, such as, “Don’t touch! Big ouch!” Pointing at the stove, she asked me, “Big ouch?”, to which I responded, “Yes, big ouch!” She gave me this look of understanding, walked away, and never went near the stove to play again. At three, one of our neighbors commented that she speaks like an old lady, meaning she had a larger vocabulary than most kids her age.
Fast forward to her school years, and every teacher comments on the size of her vocabulary and her vivid imagination. This past school year, her teachers sat her at a table with a new student who couldn’t speak English, so my daughter taught her how to speak English rather than do her class work. They also said that she was very empathetic, more than any kid her age, which they said might be due in part to her large vocabulary. I always made a point to describe my emotions to her, in order to help her describe her own feelings back to me.
Children aren’t adults, and they may not have the cognitive ability we do, but they are extremely quick studies, and they absorb everything you say and do. Speak to them in clear, simple language, clarify words they don’t understand and do your best to answer any questions they have about the world around them. At the same time, admit when you don’t know something, or were wrong, and they will learn even quicker, knowing that it is ok to make mistakes. With respect to language, the earlier you teach them to speak properly, the more quickly they will learn to communicate with you and others. That is never a bad thing.