Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Penn Psychologists Show that Quality Matters More Than Quantity for Word Learning

25.06.2013
Several studies have shown that how much parents say to their children when they are very young is a good predictor of children’s vocabulary at the point when they begin school. In turn, a child’s vocabulary size at school entry strongly predicts level of success throughout schooling even into high school and college.
A new study by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania now shows that early vocabulary improvement is likely to have more to do with the “quality” of the interactions in which the words are used rather than the sheer quantity of speech directed at young children. Moreover, the study shows that, unlike quantity, the quality of these interactions is not related to the parents’ socioeconomic status.

The study was conducted by professors John Trueswell and Lila Gleitman, both of the Department of Psychology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, as well as by Erica Cartmill and Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago. Also contributing to the study were Benjamin Armstrong III of Penn and Tamara Medina of Drexel University.

It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Knowing how critical early-language acquisition is to a person’s future success, Trueswell and Gleitman have long investigated the mechanisms involved in how children learn their first words. One of their previous studies suggests that children learn these words in what might be described as a “eureka” moment — that is, only after “highly informative” examples of speech that clearly connect the word to the thing it refers to.

The researchers suspected these highly informative examples would matter much more than the sheer amount of talk in the home when it came to which children learned more words. To determine if this was the case, they set out to track the long-term effects of these examples, seeing if children who had been exposed to them more often did better on a vocabulary test three years later. However, to begin this study, the researchers first had to determine what constituted highly informative speech.

To quantify this phenomenon, the researchers visited more than 50 families from various backgrounds in their homes and videotaped parents interacting with their children. They made these visits when the children were 14 months old and then again four months later.

The researchers edited these taped interactions down to 40-second segments, each centered on one instance of a parent saying a common, concrete noun, such as “book,” “ball” or “dog.” The researchers showed these segments to adult volunteers but muted the video until the parent reached the target word, which was replaced by a beep. The volunteers were asked to guess the word the parent was saying in each instance.

“We purposely chose videos of parents interacting with their children in the home because of the complexity there,” Trueswell said. “Our intuitions are a little misleading; we think it’s going to be a simple environment, but there’s all sorts of things happening at once and changing on a second-by-second basis. Identifying a particular word’s referent, especially when you don’t know any words to begin with, is not a simple task.”

By taking out the verbal context, the volunteers experience the taped situations in the way the children experience it, as they don’t yet understand any of the words and must rely on environmental clues to first learn them. The researchers also discarded any examples where the child might already know the word in question. In those cases, volunteers might be able to pick up clues from the child rather than the parent, and the parent might be less conscientious about connecting the meaning of a word to its referent.

“We see that the more an environment maximizes the ‘here and nowness’ of speech, such as when a parent is gesturing or looking at the object in question, the more likely it is that an interaction will be highly informative,” Gleitman said. “And it turns out this is surprisingly hard to do; only 7 percent of the examples were able to be guessed correctly by more than half of the adults we showed them to.”

If more than half the adults could guess an example’s target word correctly, that suggested the interaction was highly informative. The researchers used this approach to determine approximately how frequently each child in the study heard these highly informative examples. They found a surprising amount of variability: the parents who provided the highest rate of highly informative examples did so 38 percent of the time, while those who provided the lowest rate did so only 4 percent of the time.

“This means that some parents are providing 10 times as much highly informative learning instances as others,” Gleitman said.

The effect of this discrepancy was clear when the researchers tracked how well each of the children did on a standard vocabulary test three years later. The more frequently a child heard highly informative examples of speech, the better he or she did on these tests.

Increasing the quantity of speech was also beneficial but only because it increased the number of chances parents had to provide highly informative examples.

“Fortunately, low-informative instances seem to be ignored,” Trueswell said. “By talking to children more, it’s not as if you’re giving them bad data, you’re only increasing the opportunity to find those nuggets.”

Critically, the rate at which a parent gave highly informative examples to their children wasn’t correlated to the amount they spoke to them in total. This is potentially hopeful news, given the studies that link low socioeconomic status, or SES, to low speech quantity and thus to poor scholastic performance.

“There are a variety of reasons why low-SES parents are speaking less to their children,” Trueswell said, “but, when they do speak to them, their natural predispositions about talking about the ‘here and now’ don’t seem to be correlated to their SES.”

And while the exact mechanisms that lead to a particular bit of speech being highly informative will need to be determined in future research, the Penn team’s study shows how these quality examples can have an overriding and lasting effect on an important stage of a child’s development.

“You can see this effect even with all the variations in their lives and personalities,” Gleitman said. “Through all of that noise, the signal of a linear relationship between these highly informative examples and their children’s performance on that vocabulary test three years later shines through.”

The research was supported through the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Evan Lerner | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.upenn.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>