My grand-daughter’s fascination with the Teletubbies began when she was about nine months old. When nothing else would comfort her in a spell of crying, putting on a tape of the Teletubbies always soothed her.At 21 months, Carys-Jane shows no sign of losing interest. For those of you who don’t know, Teletubbies is a BBC children’s television series that was produced from 1997 to 2001. The 365 episodes are still being shown, presumably all over the world. In the U.S. children can watch Teletubbies on PBS stations.
Designed for children 1-4, Teletubbies uses repetition to teach language. The episodes mix the antics of the four rotund aliens with short clips of children in different parts of the world being exposed to cultural activities such as kite-flying and egg-painting.
The four Teletubbies, Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La La, and Po, have extremely limited vocabularies and they don’t speak very plainly. When they say “hello,” it sounds like “eh-oh.” What they do say, they say over and over. For example, Dipsy sings a hat song. The words to this song are
hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat
One of the activities shown on the tape that Carys and I watch features a little girl and a woman playing a harp. The other day, thinking that Carys would like a change (and knowing that I would) I put on a tape of Disney’s Aristocats, When the mother cat sat down to play a harp, Carys jumped up from where she was sitting, ran to the TV screen, put her finger on the drawing of the harp and turned delightedly to me, saying “harp! harp!”
For every word a child learns to say, the child must hear it spoken 500 times or more. Some words are easier to learn than others. Some are short and name objects or people that the child encounters every day. Other words, like “harp,” are not so common. I wish I’d kept count of the times that Carys and I have watched our Teletubbies tape. As a rough estimate, I would guess that she has heard the word “harp” spoken on the tape at least 3,500 times.
Research indicates that the more words a child is exposed to between birth and school age, the more successful the child will be in learning how to read. Studies also show that upper income children start school having heard a million more words than children from lower income families.
Children learn language by hearing language. Reading is meaningless to a child who lacks spoken language.Talk to your children, beginning on the day they are born. Read to them. And, while too much television viewing may be harmful to the young child, if you’re looking for an effective language supplement, check out the Teletubbies.