Language & Psychology: How important is the father’s role in their child’s language learning?


Parental influence on their child’s language acquisition is a fascinatingly complex topic. Research has shown the mother appears to play the reinforcement role, providing the steady, dependable example to support their learning; meanwhile fathers generally do not adapt their speech greatly to make allowances for their child. This develops a more challenging environment, thus encouraging the child to aspire towards their father’s speech expectations.

So what impact does this have upon learning? What if this challenge was removedAn innovative study was carried out in 2008 whereby post-natal depression was investigated in both mothers and fathers. Researchers found this caused a reduction in parent-child bedtime reading for both parents. However, it was the removal of father-child reading time which produced a large downturn in expressive vocabulary at 24 months – and this was not all. The lack of male influence also appeared to initiate behavioural patterns which affected vocabulary levels around age 2.This suggests that traditional parent roles of nurturer versus role model are being adhered to. In this scenario, mothers perhaps have less opportunity to withdraw from such activities regardless of their emotional or physical well-being, whereas a father’s predominant contact with their child is often when they return from work when their child is heading to bed and engages in reading activities. If this time is removed, contact can sometimes be negligible whilst mothers have other communicative outlets where they can make up lost reading time. Yet, despite their consistent encouragement for speech progression, mothers typically use a simplifying vocabulary style to adapt down to the child’s level which does not serve to push and develop speech to the level a father’s influence has been proven to reach – hence making the male role vital.For full details of this insightful article, please review the article ‘Early parental depression and child language development’ published in 2008 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry by Paulson, Keefe and Leiferman which is  available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01973.x/full or via Google Scholar.

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