Learning New Words Twice As Fast

Reference:  ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists & Audiologists, February 7, 2011 

Eighteen-month-olds who played with a broader array of objects named by shape learned new words twice as fast as those who played with more similar objects, according to a new study at the University of Iowa.

Outside the lab a month after the training, toddlers who had been exposed to the diverse objects were learning an average of nearly 10 new words per week.  Children in the other group were picking up four a week, which is typical for that age without any special training.

All of the children given extra training with words figured out that shape was the most important distinguishing feature when learning to name solid objects.  Typically, this attention to shape is not seen until later in development.  However, the researchers believe that children exposed to more variety took the knowledge a step further and learned when not to attend to shape.  For example, children in the variable group learned to focus on material rather than shape when hearing names for non-solid substances.

“Knowing where to direct their attention helps them learn words more quickly overall,” said lead author Lynn Perry, a doctoral student in psychology.  “The shape bias enhances vocabulary development because most of the words young kids learn early on are names of categories organized by similarity in shape.”  In addition, developing the ability to disregard shape for non-solids helps them learn words like pudding or milk. 

See the remainder of the article  at www.advanceweb.com/speech.

Reference from Perry, L.K., Samuelson, K.k., Malloy, L.M., et al. (2010). Learn locally, think globally: Exemplar variability supports higher-order generalization and word learning. Psychological Science, 21 (12):1894-1902

Developmental Benefits of Reading

Reference: ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, April 4, 2011

Infants are auditory learners.  When parents talk and read to them, babies learn about communication and how to interact with others.  “Spending quality time and bonding with an infant are always important, no matter what the activity is,” said Hannah Chow, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.  “But with reading the benefits increase.”

Reading to children at a young age encourages a passion for books and learning, improves vocabulary, stimulates creativity and imagination, and improves a child’s concentration which improves attention in school.

“Although reading books to children is wonderful when infants are small, it’s not so much what you read, but how you read it” said Dr. Chow.  Parents can read the Wall Street Journal to their babies as long as they use voice inflection and interact with them while reading.  “It’s a wonderful chance to just be together,” she said.

The reading material becomes more imporant as children age.  Infants and toddlers enjoy staring at people, especially babies, so books should be colorful and simple, with lots of pictures.

“Most toddlers don’t want to sit still while an entire book is read, so reading part of the story lets them wander off and explore for a while and then return to the story a little later”, Dr. Chow said.  The experience just needs to be purposeful and a part of their routine.

Children should be allowed to pick which book they want to read, she said.  “If it’s the same one over and over again, just keep reading it.  Kids learn from repetition.”

Parents should try to have books with them at all times as they are always available to children whenever there is down time, such as riding in a car or sitting in a waiting room.

The most important part of reading as an activity for young children is the quality time spent with parents, Dr. Chow said. “Parents should interact with their kids while reading, asking them questions about the words or pictures.  It’s fascinating what kids are interested in and the amount of detail they can remember.”

Children mimic their parents’ behavior, she noted.  “If reading is a priority to parents and they see them picking up a book instead of turning on the TV, they will most likely do it, too.”