A university study has suggested that toddlers learn words more quickly from their mothers than from unfamiliar speakers.
Dr Rianne van Rooijen, a developmental psychologist at Utrecht University, investigated how children learn communication skills by interacting with other people by looking at groups of toddlers and adolescents.
She compared groups of typical two-year olds and those with ‘increased risk for autism’, looking at how they learned vocabulary from direct interaction with the mother, the mother’s pre-recorded speech and interaction with strangers.
‘Results for the typical population showed that compared to unfamiliar speakers, maternal speech indeed boosts novel word learning,’ she said in an extract from research to be published in full in December.
Although children at risk of autism ‘lagged behind in their current vocabulary size’, they were also just as likely to learn new words better from their mothers.
The researcher studied 149 normal two-year-olds, half of whom were shown computer screens with novel, named objects and half of whom where taught the new words by their mothers. A second study looked at whether children at risk of autism learned words as easily as the typical group.
Van Rooijen told the Volkskrant that it was unclear if the effect would be replicated with another familiar voice or whether it was a mother-child phenomenon. ‘If a grandfather or grandmother often takes care of a child and the child recognises their voice, this could have an effect on the learning process,’ she said. ‘But this is speculation.’
Prof Caroline Rowland, professor in first language acquisition at Radboud University told the Volkskrant that the study gave insights into how toddlers learn words, adding that it could help in developing language lessons, particularly for children with special needs.
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