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‘Um’ and ‘Uh’ Can Help Toddlers Learn New Words

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Mother talking to toddler girlA new study published in the journal Developmental Science reveals that speech fillers such as “um” and “uh,” also known as language disfluencies, may actually help toddlers’ language development.

The research was conducted at the University of Rochester and studied three groups of children, ages 18 to 30 months, who each sat in front of a monitor that tracked the children’s gazes.  Two images were shown on screen, one image of  a familiar object  and one image of a made-up object.  While a recorded voice said short, fluid sentences about the familiar item first, most infants looked at both images equally.  

When the recorded voice then said, “Look at the, uh…,”  most 2 1/2-year-old toddlers recognized the word stumble and looked at the made-up object, expecting to learn something new.  Kids 2 and under rarely picked up on the word stumble.

Researchers aren’t certain how kids understand these disfluencies–whether they realize “um” and “uh” signify a pause in speech to recall the next word or a pause in speech to introduce new words.

Celeste Kidd, the lead researcher quoted on ScienceDaily.com, noted “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.”

Read more about the research

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