TUESDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- If you have a baby who's
learning to talk, you may feel the need to chatter incessantly to
boost her vocabulary, but a new study says another factor is
crucial: the ability to provide non-verbal clues that help an
infant figure out what words mean.
In other words, it's vital to not only talk to babies but also
connect the words you use to the world in which you are using them,
the research suggests.
The good news is that anyone -- regardless of education or
vocabulary level -- can use this approach to teach language to
babies, said study co-author Lila Gleitman, a professor of
psychology and linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. "If
you took the effort to talk to your kid about the here-and-now,
you'd have an impact on how they learn the meaning of words," she
And a better vocabulary, she noted, often translates to more
success in school and in life.
At issue is the way humans learn language, especially as babies
when words or grammar don't make sense. At the very start, a parent
needs to do some world-to-word pairing, linking objects like a cat
or a spoon to the word for each, Gleitman explained.
But one expert added that it's not just a matter of pointing to
something and saying it's a banana or a dog or a couch.
For example, if you point to the sky and say something is an
"airplane," the child might not know if that's the plane or the
cloud next to it or a bird flying above, said Skott Freedman, an
assistant professor who studies vocabulary at Ithaca College in New
York. That's where the teaching talent of parents comes in.
The new study tried to figure out how a parent's ability to
provide context affects a child's vocabulary in the long run.
To do this, the researchers created an experiment aimed at
helping them understand which parents provided more context for the
words they spoke to their kids. They told 218 college students to
look at a muted video of 50 parents talking to their babies, and
asked the students to try to figure out the words the parents were
The theory is that the students would detect more words from the
silent video if the parents provided more nonverbal context by,
say, pointing at objects they're talking about to the child.
The researchers then waited three years and analyzed the
vocabulary of the babies, who were initially between 14 to 18
The results: Kids had bigger vocabularies if the words of their
parents were more decipherable by the college students. This trend
wasn't affected by the education and income of the parents,
suggesting that it's not a matter of the parents simply knowing
What does this mean in the big picture? "There's definitely a
message for parents," Freeman said. "The message is not
how muchyou talk to your children, it's
howyou talk to your child."
Study co-author Gleitman put it this way: "Talk to them about
the objects and things you bring to their attention: 'Look at this
strawberry. I see you're eating your peas, what nice little
This simple approach, she said, can make a world of
The study appears in this week's issue of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For more about
child development, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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