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Ummm… Don’t Worry About Sounding Dumb, Your Toddler Learns When You Stumble

learning how to talk, toddlers

2 year olds learn new words when you, uh, stumble.

A new study out of the University of Rochester’s Baby Lab shows that “toddlers actually use their parents’ stumbles and hesitations (technically referred to as disfluencies) to help them learn language more efficiently.”

Ummm… that’s awesome news!  Especially if you’re suffering from “mommy brain,” which may make you feel a bit slower than usual.

Researchers say each child studied sat on his or her parent’s lap and listened to a recorded voice talk about objects shown in front of them.  One object was familiar and one invented.  When the voice stumbled and said “Look at the, uh…” the child instinctively looked at the invented object much more often than the familiar image.  Proof that toddlers take “uh” to mean, “I’m about to say something you’ve never heard before, kiddo, so perk your ears up!”

According to experts, “as you are fumbling for the correct word, you are also sending your child a signal that you are about to teach him something new, so he should pay attention.”   In other words, don’t feel bad about saying something like, “Mommy’s just having uh, uh, a moment,” because you’ve just taught your toddler what a meltdown is.  (Except she’ll know to call it a “moment” instead.   That might be confusing to her later when she watches female-targeted coffee or chocolate commercials, though.)

Richard Aslin, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at U of R, says, “If a child’s brain waits until a new word is spoken and then tries to figure out what it means after the fact, it becomes a much more difficult task and the child is apt to miss what comes next.  The more predictions a listener can make about what is being communicated, the more efficiently the listener can understand it.”

Researchers note that “in the study, the effect was only significant in children older than two years.  The younger children… had not yet learned the fact that disfluencies tend to precede novel or unknown words.”  This study builds on earlier research by Anne Fernald at Stanford University which showed that “it’s not the quality but the quantity of speech that a child is exposed to that is most important for learning.”  So don’t be afraid that you’re not smart enough, just keep on, uh, talking to your baby!

Source: PR Newswire

Photo via Flickr

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