Sunday, November 8, 2009


As a writer, I naturally use words, and I want other people - many in fact - to read my words in the books I write. Even if they don't buy my books, but borrow them from friends or the library, I consider myself successful in my chosen career if people read my words. That's my goal, and, perhaps it's a selfish one. But what if words could sve lives?

Research about tjhe different lives lived by children (and adults) in poor families versus middle-class families shows that words make a huge difference in deciding who does well in school and succeeds in life.

What words? Well, any words. In fact, the more words a child hears while growing up, the better. A study in Kansas City showed that by the age of three, a child from a middle-class home heard 20 million more words than a child from an impoverished home.

Were the middle-class parents doing flash-card games to increase their child's vocabulary? No. They were just ordinary words spoken at the breakfast or dinner table. They were words used to a child while he played with blocks, or talking about games or toys, or asking what he did at day-care. Even better: the words of the books read to the child every night before bedtime.

Apparently, we don't use words because we can think: we can think because we have words to use.

What a simple way to lift children out of poverty. Read to them, talk to them. Instead of corporal punishment when a child misbehaves, try conversation. Negotiation, conversation, discussion about the incident will be far better. An important thing that language does for a child is to distance him from his emotions. If he can put a name to his feelings, he can begin to control them. It can give him motivation and the experience of learning new ideas.

Thus, hearing words can help a child succeed in school and keep him out of trouble after school. If fewer children drop out, or resort to violence because they don't know anything better, they can become useful citizens instead of gang members. And that can save lives.

So, if you're a parent or grandparent, talk to the children in your life, read to them. You'll be helping them and society at the same time.

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