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Literacy Begins at Birth
The first building block of future reading ability is learning to understand and speak language. Babies learn phonemic awareness (the ability to perceive individual sounds in the stream of speech) in the first eight to ten months. By eighteen months, they may already understands an average of fifty words. After age two babies acquire vocabulary at an awesome rate (about 8 to 10 words a day). By age six a child understands about 13,000 words.

How do babies learn vocabulary? They learn from hearing a flood of words from their parents through positive conversations and a daily variety of read-alouds. As the read-aloud guru, Jim Trelease, states so simply, "if the child has never heard the word, the child will never say the word; and if you have neither heard it nor said it, it's pretty tough to read it and to write it."*

Can TV or videos provide the necessary words that babies need to hear? The answer is a definite no. Babies have to hear language that is personally directed at them, language that is conversational and interactive. Listening comprehension predicts reading comprehension. Comprehension is the most important aspect of reading. Comprehension begins when babies first begin to understand the words they hear. At four months a baby recognizes his or her own name. The journey to reading begins at birth when parents speak their first adoring words to their baby.


*Read-aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Marc Brown, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), Introduction by Jim Trelease.
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