31 July 2011

Schoolchildren don't know their own name?

A report at the Telegraph this week suggests that some British children begin school so ill-prepared in terms of basic language skills that they are not even able to recognize their own name.
Parents are failing to teach their children how to speak because they spend too much time on the internet and watching television, experts claim... In the worst cases, many children are unaware they even have a name at the age of four. Toddlers should be familiar with their own name by the age of two, teachers say...

She added that in around 10 per cent of cases, parents were not to blame because their children had language and communication difficulties caused by disabilities. However, the remainder could be avoided if families spent more time teaching their children to speak from an early age...

“It’s a communication issue at home. I think the advent of the media, particularly television has had a pretty poor impact on communication. “Once upon a time, families would spend a lot of time talking. Nowadays, of course, they’ve got DVDs, the internet, TV, and so this formal communication process of talk and listening has got worse..
I was able to read stories in the newspaper before I started first grade, so I have a hard time crediting this report's assertions, and wonder if those conducting the study are simply promoting their own interests.  Perhaps some of the children are from non-English speaking families and are having difficulty comprehending the questions being asked by the examiners.


  1. I'm not as skeptical as you are, though no less disappointed. The electronic device as babysitter is everywhere.

    If you haven't read "The Disappearance of Childhood" you may find it disturbing but maybe he didn't see far enough out to predict this.

    I was in another conversation on the difference in writing style of today vs 100+ years ago, and how it came to be. Fewer books (the Bible, Shakespeare) more deeply read and understood as well longhand writing as the only way to record things. So commonplace books (no copy and paste) and letter writing built people's brains differently.

  2. Kids not knowing their names becasue of electronic gadgets...no it's careless parents who don't bother using a child's proper name on a regular basis.

  3. The story is a beat up of a presser. The key phrase in the article, the one that the headline depends on, is "teachers say". This is a weasel expression for "anecdotal evidence", which is code for "it happened to a cousin of a friend of a friend".

    Language acquisition in children is extremely robust and proper nouns are central to this. Barring learning disorders, the thought that a school-age child would not know their own name is not just unlikely, it's inconceivable.

  4. What an... interesting example of journalism. I've heard more (equally anecdotal) stories of children introducing themselves by their 'full name' that includes a parent's expression of frustration. A friend of mine swears that he told his kindergarten teachers his name was 'Goddamitchris'. I'm not sure if I believe him, but it certainly matches his and his father's characters.

  5. Children born anencephalic, then exposed to too many electronic gadgets, have shown a decreased ability to remember their own name. This is according to a study by a major university.

  6. Aspects of this story remind me of the "kid named Shithead" myth. Like the stories gossips told each other in old movies: "Land sakes, did you hear...?"

    As Johnson points out, anencephalic children may follow this scenario, but it's a long jump from there to "kids today."

  7. At least according to Stephen Pinker (in The Language Instinct), there are cultures where adults don't even talk directly to young children-- but the kids start speaking just fine. (Pinker doesn't mention the matter of names.) So unless these kids' parents are completely silent and they never hear anyone else talk, I doubt they'd have that much trouble picking up the local language unless, as noted, they were born disabled.

  8. Note: The use of electronic babysitters is NOT a new phenomenon, since the TV also did the same things, and the Baby Boomers turned out OK with regard to language usage is concerned.


  9. DaBris, you're right about "baby boomers" and TV...but being one myself I can attest that back then similar things were said (at a similar level of hysteria) about how television would destroy us.

    I wonder if my parents' generation heard the same thing about radio.

  10. Yep, what Emily said. It's exposure to language that matters, in which case TV counts.

  11. What wouldn't surprise me would be that there might be children arriving at school who don't recognise their own name WRITTEN down.
    My anecdotal evidence (friends who are teacher aides) is that there are children arriving at school who don't know colours, or the alphabet.


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