Children with lower knowledge skills were found to be at a disadvantage when given tasks or being spoken to by strangers because they cannot, as easily as their peers, understand speech from people they do not know, revealed new research by New York University Steinhardt Associate Professor Susannah Levi.
Levi's research evaluated school-aged children and found that children with high language skills - a better ability to understand and process language - were able to understand speech well both by people they knew and were familiar with, as well as strangers who had a similar accent to people they were familiar with.
"These findings suggest that children who have lower language skills are able to understand speech from familiar speakers, as would be the case with a teacher or parent, but may have a harder time with new speakers, such as a substitute teacher or when interacting with other people in their day to day interactions," said Susannah Levi, NYU Steinhardt professor and the study's lead author.
With the concept "familiar talker advantage," child listeners naturally store information about what they hear and the way words sound when spoken from people they know. Each time a child is spoken to they go back to this stored information to process and understand words that are spoken to them. This new research demonstrates that children with poorer language skills have a more difficult time retrieving and processing this information.
The current study included children with a range of language abilities who completed spoken word recognition tasks in which they heard words mixed with background noise and had to indicate what word they heard. The tasks required children to identify words spoken by voices and accents they were familiar with as well as three unfamiliar voices.