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Infants Learn Hundreds of Words Much Before They Start Talking

by VR Sreeraman on November 1, 2008 at 3:03 PM
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 Infants Learn Hundreds of Words Much Before They Start Talking

No matter when babies start talking, a new study has claimed that infants' brains become acquainted with hundreds of words much before they start uttering them.

The report, published in the October issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, describes an increasing emphasis among researchers in studying vocabulary development in infants.

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The report by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Daniel Swingley was mainly focussed on studying vocabulary development in infants.

For their study, the researchers tracked infants' eye movements while they are looking at two objects (for example, an apple and a dog) and observed if the child looked at the right object when it was mispronounced.
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The results indicated that the children were less likely to look at the correct object when it was mispronounced, indicating that by one year of age, children are able to recognize mispronunciations of words.

This new research in language acquisition indicates that infants learn the forms of many words and they begin to gather information about how these forms are used.

According to the authors of the study, "these word forms then become the foundation of the early vocabulary, support children's learning of the language's phonological system, and contribute to the discovery of grammar."

The researchers found that infants have a unique ability to discriminate speech-sound (phonetic) differences, but over time they lose this skill for differentiating sounds in languages other than their native tongue. For instance, 6 month old babies who were learning English were able to distinguish between similar-sounding Hindi consonants not found in English, but they lost this ability by the time they were 12 months of age.

The study has shown that during infancy, babies learn not only individual speech sounds but also the auditory forms of words, i.e., babies are not only aware of the pieces that make up a word, but they are aware of the entire word.

These auditory forms of words allow children to increase their vocabulary and help them to eventually develop grammar.

One more interesting finding of the study was that although children learning a language can distinguish between long and short vowels, they interpret this difference according to the rules of their language. For instance, Dutch 18-month-olds considered tam and taam to be different words, while English 18-month-olds did not-showing children's early learning of how each language uses vowel length.

The new study in language acquisition showed that infants learn the forms of many words and they begin to gather information about how these forms are used.

The author concluded that "testing very young children's ability to interpret spoken language, whether by identifying novel words as novel or by comprehending sentences, may prove a more sensitive predictor of children's language outcomes than simpler tests of speech-sound categorization."

The study was published in the October issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Source: ANI
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