Parents Verbal Stumbles Helpful to Toddlers’ Language Learning

According to the results of a new study posted on the Developmental Science online journal, parents do not need to worry unnecessarily about setting a bad grammatical example for their toddlers.

Scientists have discovered that when we stumble over our words now and then, it can be beneficial for a child’s language skills development. Short pause and “ums” before continuing gives the child a moment to focus, allowing them to absorb the new information more efficiently.

The study was conducted on toddlers between 18 and 30 months of age separated into three groups. The older children who were better able to form sentences containing two to four words or more, were the most affected in the study, while the younger childdren were relatively unaffected by verbal missteps.

Researchers had the parents hold the toddlers in their laps while viewing groups of two items on a monitor showing both a familiar item and an invented item with an unfamiliar name. A device that tracks eye movements was fitted to the monitor and recorded the children’s reactions to both groups of images. When the recorded voice stumbled on naming the unfamiliar items, the children focused much more attentively than on familiar objects and words, showing anticipation of new information.

“Young kids have a lot of information to process while they listen to an adult speak, including many words that they have never heard before. If a child’s brain waits until a new word is spoken and then tries to figure out what it means after the fact, it becomes a much more difficult task and the child is apt to miss what comes next,” said Richard Aslin, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester and one of the study’s authors.

“The more predictions a listener can make about what is being communicated, the more efficiently the listener can understand it,” said Aslin.

“We’re not advocating that parents add disfluencies to their speech, but I think it’s nice for them to know that using these verbal pauses is OK – the “uh’s” and “um’s” are informative,” added Kidd, the study’s lead author.

The study is detailed in the journal Developmental Science.

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