Inner Speech – Vygotsky

Talking to Yourself

Vygotsky suggested that talking to yourself shapes your thoughts. Children talk to themselves as they solve problems and their private speech becomes internalized from verbal thinking. If you watch your child, you can see how he mutters to himself when he tries to solve a problem or when he is playing. With age, the amount of talking decreases and Vygotsky said it becomes verbal thought.

Studying a child’s private speech could help to answer some question about inner speech. Yet, there are several problems linked to studying inner speech. As an outside observer, it is difficult or even impossible to know what a child is saying to himself or when he is talking to himself. Most of the time inner speech is an unobservable phenomenon.

Blocking Speech

Blocking the inner speech is one way of studying  the importance of inner speech for solving a task, for example, a child can repeat words such “butterfly”while trying to solve a task. Asking a child to repeat ways provide insight into when he is using inner speech to solve a task. If the performance on the task drops when the child has to repeat a word, it suggests that he would benefit from talking to himself while solving the task.

Executive Games

The Tower of London, or the Tower of Hanoi, is a mathematical puzzle where you have to move disks on three rod to make a conical shape. This game is described as an executive game that relies on planning functions. Yet, results suggest that there is a strong verbal component involved in solving the game. In a study, children aged between seven and ten planned different steps, and the part of planning was carried out using language.

Planning a task is important and often the prefrontal cortex is involved in the planning. This part of the brain takes time to develop. Yet, there are wide differences in opinions regarding when prefrontal cortex is developed. Some researchers suggest that around the age of five.

Planning a Task

Vygotsky was interested in higher function and he believed that planning was important for inner speech. Interestingly the task used to block the inner speech either foot tapping or repeating words did not influence performance  unless the children were asked really to plan the moves by imaging moving the disks around in their heads and then describing how many moved they would need.

The amount of private speech was measured by videotaping the children and seeing how much they talked when they were not repeating the words. Some children relied more heavily than others did on speech to solve the problem. The time it took the children to solve the puzzle as well as the number of moves was observed.  It should be noted that only inferences about inner speech can be made, and only indirect observation of inner speech was made.

Jane S.M. Lidstone, Elizabeth Meins and Charles Fernyhough. The roles of private speech and inner speech in planning during middle childhood: Evidence from a dual task paradigm (2010) Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 107 (4), pp. 438-451.

 Photo: Child With Teddy Bear by Stuart Miles

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