We fre­quent­ly use this term when talk­ing about pho­tog­ra­phy. I have been a point­er and shoot­er in my time. I’ve even used throw away cameras.

But I was think­ing about how chil­dren learn to speak these days. From my own sur­vey 83% of mid­dle class chil­dren under 8 (with a ratio of 3:2 in favour of girls) that I know have some form of speech delay, many, both girls and boys, have oth­er delays too.

The major­i­ty of their par­ents are well spo­ken and quite suc­cess­ful in their pro­fes­sion­al worlds – com­put­er types, jour­nal­ists, teach­ers, nurs­es – all of which require them to be quite ver­bal and also very clear in what they say.

Why then would the chil­dren of such par­ents be slow to talk? By slow I mean at least a year, some­times even three years behind what would nor­mal­ly be expect­ed of a mid­dle class child from such a background.

I recent­ly heard of yet anoth­er 2 year old who is a ‘slow talk­er’. She can point to words on the signs in the zoo, knows her ani­mals and her flash cards – this from the child whose father want­ed to be a pale­on­tol­o­gist when he was 6! No short­age of vocab­u­lary in that father!

But his child, from recent reports, is a ‘slow talk­er’. I am now com­ing to think that we are in the flash card era – per­haps we have always been so, I just missed that class.

I was nev­er into flash cards or mem­o­riza­tion of words. Once a word was pro­nounced and mean­ing made clear I was able to assume that it had gone into my sons’ brains (or every oth­er child I’ve raised) and it would come out of their mouths when need­ed. Some words just seemed to be used appro­pri­ate­ly and I nev­er knew where they came from! 

My old­est son’s friend could spell ‘egg’ when he was 2 – his grand­fa­ther had taught him. I was amazed that it had nev­er occurred to me to teach my child such a thing. But I just went about my mer­ry way.

My old­est son could sing Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major Gen­er­al” when he was two. We didn’t think it odd or advanced because it was music we just played because we enjoyed it and assumed it had rubbed off on him. He real­ly learned to read fast by look­ing at the words for and singing along to Bil­ly Joel’s songs in the car when he was 5 or 6! He was cer­tain­ly nev­er made to read, recite or sing for his grand­par­ents’, or any­one else’s, enter­tain­ment. So I guess he was an ‘early talk­er’ – we just thought he was normal!

What I’m get­ting at is that his lan­guage came from nat­ur­al con­ver­sa­tions and activ­i­ties and inter­ests that he shared with his fam­i­ly. A friend com­ment­ed lat­er in our home edu­ca­tion expe­ri­ence “He’ll do all right in Eng­lish because you speak the lan­guage prop­er­ly”. I sup­pose we did – we just nev­er thought of it that way. 

But despite nev­er hav­ing been drilled, ever, in the writ­ten or spo­ken lan­guage both sons now have an excel­lent com­mand of Eng­lish. The old­est is even a pub­lished author in his field and the youngest was the one who ensured that this blog would take off and that I would final­ly publish.

They each ‘got it’!

So the ‘point and shoot method’ of teach­ing lan­guage just isn’t work­ing, just as the ‘look and say method’ of teach­ing read­ing doesn’t work by itself.

There needs to be real world use of lan­guage, out and out every day words, phras­es and inter­ac­tions used by the adults in the child’s world.

We’ve got to realise that the Eng­lish lan­guage is a colour­ful tool and can and should be used to com­mu­ni­cate our thoughts and feel­ings. If we don’t take the respon­si­bil­i­ty of teach­ing our chil­dren to speak prop­er­ly we are con­sign­ing them, ear­li­er and ear­li­er, to a world where peo­ple can’t or wont speak the Eng­lish lan­guage well and where even in an oth­er­wise respect­ed church pre-school a 3 year old from a decent mid­dle class fam­i­ly comes home say­ing “Get out of my way, bitch”.

That phrase wasn’t what I had in mind when I said our lan­guage was colourful! 

The ‘point and shoot method’ just isn’t work­ing. As with pho­tog­ra­phy, there are hol­i­day snaps and there are beau­ti­ful pho­tographs by true artists.

Let’s become artists when it comes to teach­ing our chil­dren their native lan­guage. Let’s throw away the ‘point and shoot method’.