Like Island? How reality TV is affecting children’s language development

Love Island (C) ITV

Love Island (C) ITV - Credit: ITV

A four-letter word which more and more children are inserting into their sentences has sparked a push for better language development among educators.

It comes as a primary school in Bradford, West Yorkshire, outlawed the word "like" - a filler word which is now scattered liberally through many conversations - as well as trying to stop pupils using one-word question answers such as "nice or "sad".

The "like" phenomenon originated in American speech and is now perpetuated in popular British culture.

According to the Sunday Times, a study of conversations in reality TV show Love Island found the word "like" had appeared 76 times in under five minutes.

Now a national push is under way, supported by schools minister Nick Gibb, to raise the bar in "oracy": helping children broaden their vocabulary to better express themselves.

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A scheme in west Norfolk, led by the West Norfolk Academies Trust and part funded by the Department for Education, is attempting to do just that.

Louise Jackson, executive headteacher at Heacham Infant and Junior Schools and Snettisham Primary School, said project leaders were expecting to see improved outcomes in assessments for reception children and that pupils involved were already demonstrating more confidence and motivation with their language.

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"We were given approval to work with 11 schools in our local area to train teachers and teaching assistants on researched-based programmes that were proven to accelerate language development, particularly in those children who might be disadvantaged, where language at home might not be as embedded," she said.

"If you think about our society and how it has changed of the last few decades, children are not immersed in language-rich environments, things are much more visual, and adults are communicating less with each other as they find other ways to communicate, for example through their devices.

"We need to mindfully build in experiences where children can access high-level vocabulary. There is a lot of evidence that children need a quantity and a quality of spoken language."

Schools minister Nick Gibb told the Sunday Times that teachers should think more about the "important role of oracy" in classrooms, adding that "anything that helps children broaden their vocabulary is hugely important for their future".

An all-party parliamentary group on oracy launched an inquiry last month to look at what schools are doing to help children express themselves and broaden their vocabulary.

The group said it was "concerned that oracy is being undervalued and overlooked within state education, denying the majority of children and young people the opportunity to develop these vital skills and hampering social mobility, educational achievement, wellbeing and future employability".

There are concerns that a gap in oracy teaching between state and private schools is leaving state-educated pupils at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for places at top universities or jobs in sectors such as law or finance.

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