Infant Language Learning Linked To Social Interaction
By Dr. James Palermo // July 16, 2016
ABOVE VIDEO: This UW I-LABS video demonstrates “Gaze shifting,” an early social behavior that most babies start to show around 9 months of age and helps them learn language during face-to-face interactions
New research from the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington (UW) suggests that infants develop language skills more efficiently by social interaction than by watching TV.
The findings support interactive time spent with babies as the optimal way for them to learn language skills.
‘GAZE SHIFTING’ LINKED TO ABILITY TO LEARN NEW LANGUAGE SOUNDS
It had been unclear what aspects of social interactions make them so important for learning until the UW research team demonstrated for the first time that an early social behavior called gaze shifting is linked to infants’ ability to learn new language sounds.
Gaze shifting, when a baby makes eye contact and then looks at the same object that the other person is looking at, is one of the earliest social skills that babies show.
According to the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, babies about 10 months old who engaged in more gaze shifting during sessions with a foreign language tutor showed a boost in a brain response that indicates language learning.
“Our study provides evidence that infants’ social skills play a role in cracking the code of the new language,” said Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS and co-author of the research, which was published in the current issue of Developmental Neuropsychology.
“We found that the degree to which infants visually tracked the tutors and the toys they held was linked to brain measures of infant learning, showing that social behaviors give helpful information to babies in a complex natural language learning situation.”
SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT ENHANCES LANGUAGE LEARNING
Research assistant professor at I-LABS and co-author Rechele Brooks said, “These moments of shared visual attention develop as babies interact with their parents, and they change the baby’s brain.”
“We found that the degree to which infants visually tracked the tutors and the toys they held was linked to brain measures of infant learning, showing that social behaviors give helpful information to babies in a complex natural language learning situation,” Kuhl said.
“Our findings show that young babies’ social engagement contributes to their own language learning – they’re not just passive listeners of language,” Brooks said.
“They’re paying attention, and showing parents they’re ready to learn when they’re looking back and forth. That’s when the most learning happens.”
DON’T PLANT CHILDREN IN FRONT OF THE TV — SPEND TIME AND ENGAGE THEM
The researchers hope their findings help parents, caregivers and early childhood educators develop strategies for teaching young children.
“Babies learn best from people,” Brooks said. “During playtime your child is learning so much from you. Spending time with your child matters. Keeping them engaged — that’s what helps them learn language.”