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Friday, September 27th, 2013
Videos that aim to help children learn may be entertaining, but their educational value is under dispute by a group of researchers who have concluded that face-to-face social interaction goes further toward language development than any video program can. More from Time.com:
It’s that dynamic interaction between the infant and her caregiver — a back-and-forth that static videos and television programs can’t provide — that is critical for efficient language learning. And a group of researchers from the University of Washington, Temple University and the University of Delaware explain why.
The scientists studied 36 two-year-olds who were randomly assigned to learn verbs in three different ways. A third of the group trained with a live person, another third learned through video chat technology like Skype, and the final third learned by watching a pre-recorded video of a language lesson from the same person.
Their results, published in the journal Child Development, showed that kids learned well in person and in the live video chat, likely because both scenarios allowed for an interaction between the child and the teacher, allowing the youngsters to be more responsive and therefore retain more from their experience. The children using the recorded videos, by contrast, did not learn new vocabulary words by the end of the 10 minute learning and testing task.
The findings confirm previous work that connected live conversations with better vocabularies among young children, but add another layer of understanding about why one-on-one interactions are so important to a developing brain. Nerve connections responsible for language building requires repetition and reinforcement, which can help to strengthen the correct and appropriate words or sounds and discard extraneous or inappropriate ones. It’s not that educational programming or DVDs are harming young minds; it’s more that they aren’t maximizing the infants’ ability to absorb and learn and pick up words and verbal skills more efficiently. So parking a child in front of screen for a few minutes isn’t going to hamper his ability to talk, but interspersing those videos with some one-on-one time engaging in conversation could help to speed along the learning process.
Image: Child watching a video, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, June 20th, 2013
The squeaks and puffs that babies and young toddlers make may actually be their way of imitating actual grammatical words, according to a new study that recorded tens of thousands of sounds made by French-speaking children between 23 and 37 months of age. The findings could have implications for how researchers understand language development and delays, and how they treat it. More from LiveScience:
“Many of the toddlers we studied made a small sound, a soft breath, or a pause, at exactly the place that a grammatical word would normally be uttered,” [Newcastle University researcher Cristina] Dye said in a statement.
“The fact that this sound was always produced in the correct place in the sentence leads us to believe that young children are knowledgeable of grammatical words. They are far more sophisticated in their grammatical competence than we ever understood.”
Though Dye was studying French-speaking toddlers, she and her colleagues expect their findings to apply to other languages as well. She also thinks their results could have implications for understanding language delay in children.
“When children don’t learn to speak normally it can lead to serious issues later in life,” Dye said in a statement. “For example, those who have it are more likely to suffer from mental illness or be unemployed later in life. If we can understand what is ‘normal’ as early as possible then we can intervene sooner to help those children.”
Previous research has shown that toddlers, before they articulate full sentences themselves, may be able to understand complex grammar. A 2011 study published in the journal Cognitive Science found that as early as 21 months, children could match made-up verbs with pictures that made sense grammatically. For example, if they were told “The rabbit is glorping the duck,” they would point to a picture of a rabbit lifting a duck’s leg rather than the duck lifting its leg on its own.
Image: Baby talking on a phone, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
A new study has found that a mother who suffers from depression during pregnancy may expect to see some language delays in her baby. The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested babies at ages 6 months and 10 months, each time measuring the babies’ abilities to distinguish between similar sounds in different language, and engage with people who are speaking different languages when the speakers’ voices are muted.
In typically developing children, 6-month-olds can easily make distinctions between two languages, and 10-month-olds cannot, revealing a critical window for language development in young brains. The study, however, found that babies whose mothers were depressed but took no medication during pregnancy experienced a delay; they “passed the test” at 10 months, but failed it at 6 months. Babies whose mothers took antidepressants during pregnancy failed the test at both ages.
CNN.com has more:
“What’s going on here? Researchers aren’t sure, and they don’t know if it’s good or bad. One explanation for delay in the depressed-but-not-medicated group is that those kids weren’t being exposed to as much engaging speech because their mothers were depressed.
Alternatively, the brain chemicals from the mother associated with depression could have something to do with it. And the antidepressants could be impacting the child’s brain development in the group whose mothers took these medications.
Are there long-lasting consequences of delays, or advancements, in this critical period of language sensitivity? No one knows. More research needs to be done in order to determine the implications of the findings of this study.”
Image: Mom and baby, via Shutterstock
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Friday, February 17th, 2012
Pregnant women with low levels of vitamin D in their second trimester may set their child up for language impairments, according to a new study in the online edition of Pediatrics.
Researchers found that women with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood when they were 18 weeks pregnant were almost twice as likely to have a child with language problems as women with the highest vitamin D levels.
The researchers looked at vitamin D levels in 743 pregnant women in Australia. After the women gave birth, researchers measured their child’s behavior at ages 2, 5, 8, 10, 14 and 17, and their language development at ages 5 and 10.
The study found that vitamin D levels during pregnancy weren’t linked to behavioral or emotional problems in the children. But researchers did find significant language difficulties among children whose mothers had low vitamin D.
The scientists say this doesn’t prove that low levels of the vitamin caused the difficulties, but it points to a “plausible association” that needs further study, Reuters reports.
Lead researcher Andrew Whitehouse of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research at the University of Western Australia says that vitamin D levels in pregnant women have dropped over the last 20 years, probably because they spend less time in the sun, HealthDay News reports. The body makes vitamin D in the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight.
The researchers say vitamin D supplements could help. Vitamin D is also found in foods such as milk, fish, and eggs.
Image: Pregnant belly via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
Newborns and infants do their first learning by gazing into the eyes of their parents and caregivers. But when it’s time for them to learn to speak, they begin to “read lips,” a new study published by Florida Atlantic University researchers has found.
The Associated Press reports on how developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz performed their study:
He and doctoral student Amy Hansen-Tift tested nearly 180 babies, groups of them at ages 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 months.
How? They showed videos of a woman speaking in English or Spanish to babies of English speakers. A gadget mounted on a soft headband tracked where each baby was focusing his or her gaze and for how long.
They found a dramatic shift in attention: When the speaker used English, the 4-month-olds gazed mostly into her eyes. The 6-month-olds spent equal amounts of time looking at the eyes and the mouth. The 8- and 10-month-olds studied mostly the mouth.
At 12 months, attention started shifting back toward the speaker’s eyes.
It makes sense that at 6 months, babies begin observing lip movement, Lewkowicz says, because that’s about the time babies’ brains gain the ability to control their attention rather than automatically look toward noise.
But what happened when these babies accustomed to English heard Spanish? The 12-month-olds studied the mouth longer, just like younger babies. They needed the extra information to decipher the unfamiliar sounds.
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That fits with research into bilingualism that shows babies’ brains fine-tune themselves to start distinguishing the sounds of their native language over other languages in the first year of life. That’s one reason it’s easier for babies to become bilingual than older children or adults.
Image: Happy baby girl, via Shutterstock