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Talking To Children Is Critical For Brain Development, No Matter What Language Is Spoken

SALT LAKE CITY — Though babies can’t talk right away, language development begins right at birth. By the time they enter preschool, many children know thousands of words and their vocabularies continue to grow every day, making it important for parents to talk with their children as often as possible, no matter what language they speak at home.

Like other growing children, 4-year-old Mateo Cazares is inquisitive and energetic.

“He loves to talk,” his mom, Elizavet Cazares, said laughing, and he loves telling her about his day. “He always needs more attention, so I always ask him!”

Cazares is also a teacher at Neighborhood House where she brings all three of her kids, including 9-year-old Jesus and 18-month-old Fatmina, to learn and play with other kids this summer.

The Cazares family said they are proud of their Mexican heritage and culture.

“All we speak in the house is Spanish, because I know that in school, they’ll learn English,” she said.

Cazares wants her children to be able to communicate with family.

“We travel a lot to Mexico, so it’s really important for us, for our children, to know Spanish so they could communicate and express themselves over there,” she explained.

Mateo’s older brother, Jesus, had no problem learning English in school.

“He went into kindergarten [and] he started learning English really fast, so that’s why I don’t really worry about my 4-year-old, because I know he would pick it up really quick,” Cazares said.

She also knows it will pay off in the future.

“To me, that’s a big advantage for work, for school, for their future careers,” she said.

Briar Matucci is the principal of Gourley Elementary in Kearns. She said raising bilingual learners definitely has its advantages.

“That’s an amazing skill for our kids to have, and if they come being full native speakers from their home language, and then they can develop that English here at school, they really, educationally, can very much benefit from that,” she said. “Kids who are fluent in their native language are going to acquire the English language, or any second or third language, so much more quickly.”

Nearly 60% of Matucci’s students speak Spanish at home. She said she finds some parents are hesitant, fearing it will deter their children from learning English, but Matucci said the opposite is true.

“You want your child to be able to talk with you in any language that you speak at home,” she said. “If the kids can’t communicate in their native language, then that really is a barrier, and it’s a frustration in being able to help the kids make healthy choices.”

Lisa Hackwell, the early education manager with Neighborhood House, said children crave connection, regardless of what language is spoken.

“It’s vital for them to have somebody that they can express their emotions and their feelings to,” she said. “To feel safety [and] security.”

“Then, children can express those [feelings] a lot more fluently with their parents. They can share, ‘This was really hard today, or this was a really exciting part,’ and that really does encourage them to share more of their emotions,” Matucci said.

Both Hackwell and Matucci encouraged parents to ask open-ended questions.

“Things like, ‘What was the best part of your day? What was the hardest part of your day?’ And so that they actually have to respond,” she said.

Cazares has made a habit of always asking how her childrens’ day went.

“If you made new friends today? What did you learn today?” she asks.

Hackwell and Matucci also suggest parents narrate their day out loud to their children.

“‘What cereal should we buy? Should we have three bananas, four bananas?’ Just having all of those conversations again, thinking out loud,” she said.

They said this is especially important, even for little babies or toddlers who can’t quite reciprocate.

“Even as they’re not speaking, they’re listening to everything that parents are saying,” Matucci said. “They are taking everything in with their eyes and their touch and really that sound too.”

“From the time they’re zero to five-years-old, they are learning so much. They’re little sponges,” Hackwell said. “It’s so important to just talk, talk, talk to them to them as much as possible, to expand their vocabulary.”

When Cazares’ littles return from school, they know they’re in the comfort of their home because they can speak Spanish.

“All they want to do is talk to me in Spanish,” she said. “Maybe because it makes them feel like ‘I’m home!'”

Cazares said she was amazed by how quickly her little ones learn and grow.

“I love being a mom, even though it’s so tiring, but I get to see them grow up every day and just be with them,” Cazares said.

Having a conversation isn’t the only way to help your children expand their vocabulary. Mattucci encouraged parents to try singing, rhyming or reading.

“Picking one word and saying all the things that rhyme with that one word,” she suggested.

For more ideas on how to talk with your young children, check out

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