Language is an interesting concept. Nearly everyone uses it, but few can say where it came from. Even linguists come up short-handed most times when it comes to explaining the origins of human communication. A new study has turned our understanding of language upside-down by suggesting that how many words you teach children is not nearly as important as how you teach them to use these terms.

It seems that with language acquisition, quality greatly triumphs over quantity. According to a recent study, which will be presented at a White House conference on Thursday, asking your child if they “want a bottle after their bath” is far more constructive to their language skills than giving them a constant flow of words. In their study, a team of researchers observed 11- and 14-month-old children, taking note of the verbal interaction they had with their parents. After following these children until age 2, the researchers were able to conclude that the total number of words the children’s parents said to them actually had no correlation with their future linguistic abilities. What did have a direct correlation, however, was the words used.

The study showed that quality in communication accounted for 27 percent of the variation in expressive language seen later on in life, an observation that did not change with parent’s educational level.

“It’s not just about shoving words in,” Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and lead author of the study, told The New York Times. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.”

Hirsh-Pasek explained that inviting the child to be interactive in the language learning process, by using phrases, such as “Look, a dog,” or adding on to their knowledge of newly learned words with reassuring phrases, such as “Yes, that is a bus,” significantly increased the child’s language proficiency by age 3.

In the early 1990s, researchers found that children from lower-income families had 30 million fewer words than children of the same age who were raised in more affluent households. The findings sparked an increased call for publically funded pre-kindergarten programs and sparked nationwide campaigns to get parents to become more verbally interactive with their young children. This new finding will hopefully help to further diminish the language gap between social classes by helping parents of all economic backgrounds better understand how to give their child the best linguistic start in life.