A study from Stanford University entitled “Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary” was published in the journal Psychological Science on September 10. It deals with the importance of speaking directly to children during their first years of life, when they are acquiring their language. The study has proven that addressing children enhances language development in a way that indirect exposure to conversation or television can’t, improving both proficiency and vocabulary.
Recording Children for Analysis
Based on the assumption that language use and language learning should be studied in context, Weisleder and Anne Fernald, in charge in of the study, decided to work with a series of recordings obtained from special shirts containing audio recorders which captured what the children heard during the day. The data is based on a group of 29 children, all of them nearly two years old and from low income Latino families. After the recordings were turned in, a special program called LENA, Language Environment Analysis, separated human speech from television or radio noises. Then, speech directed to the child was differentiated from other instances of speech such as a conversation among adults which the children had been exposed to indirectly.
The results found showed a considerable difference between the percentages of conversation directed specifically to children between the 29 families who participated in the experiment. In some cases, children received more than 12,000 words which were directed to them, while others only received around 670.
Follow-Up Test and Results
Five months later, researchers retested the same children to evaluate their linguistic abilities. The results showed that those children who had been directly addressed more often in the previous experiment had a larger vocabulary set than the rest. Researchers concluded, then, that indirect exposure to language is not enough to help children develop better linguistic abilities which will affect their communicative skills. The main reason is that toddlers need to hear language in context, as part of interactions that they find meaningful.
Apart from greater vocabulary sets, children who had been exposed to higher percentages of language directed to them were found to be better at processing language. This was proved by means of a test in which children were shown two images and they were told the name of the object depicted in one of the two images. A camera recorded the children’s reaction to the voice and the recordings were then evaluated to see how long it took for different children to associate the voice they heard with one of the images in the picture.