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Children learn new words better when they spend more time with other children

Posted July 18, 2019

Learning to speak is one of those great milestones in toddler’s development. All parents want to hear their children connecting words into sentences as early as possible and so they keep their kids around so that they would hear them talk. But maybe children should hang around with children more to improve language skills? Scientists from the University of Waterloo examined this question.

Spending time with other children helps developing social skills and learning new words. Image credit: Ladislav Kopůnec Univerzon via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Researchers analysed how language skills of toddlers develop when they are surrounded by other children compared to when they hang around adults more. The key factor that scientists were interested in was how well the toddlers understood the speech of other children. In order to find out which learning method is prefered, researchers conducted not one, but two experiments.

In the first experiment scientists compared children’s processing of instructions from a seven-year-old child speaker and from an adult. The second experiment was similar, but the speaker was mispronouncing  the object names, which allowed testing sensitivity of the toddlers’ speech processing. 88 toddlers were involved in this study – some of them spent eight hours or less per week with other children and others spent much more time with other children.

This study revealed that those toddlers who spent more time with other children were better at associating a new word to a new object. This is quite interesting, but could be explained through a simple fact that children pronounce words differently than adults. Katherine White, co-author of the study, said: “Our study demonstrates that toddlers are extremely good at processing the speech of young children, and that this is true even for toddlers who do not have a lot of experience with other children. This means that they could use this kind of speech, in addition to adult speech, to learn about their native language(s)”.

Children should spend a lot of time with other children as well as their own parents. These experiences help developing different language skills. For example, some children learn slightly faster and they could sort of drag other children along, increasing their language skills too. The difference between children talk and adult talk is quite big, which makes learning language a big leap rather than a continuous gradual process. This is probably why children were learning new words quicker when they were with other children.

Ultimately, it’s parents’ job to ensure that their children are comfortable at learning to speak well. It is important to be patient and expose your children to more people.


Source: University of Waterloo

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