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  • New Research Demonstrates Benefits of Word Repetition to Infants
    22 Sep , 2015

    According to the University of Maryland and Harvard University, new research on word repetition suggests that young infants benefit from hearing words repeated by their parents. With this knowledge, parents may make conscious communication choices that could pay off in their babies’ toddler years and beyond. An abstract for the research article, “Input and uptake at 7 months predicts toddler vocabulary: the role of child-directed speech and infant processing skills in language development,” appears on the Journal of Child Language website in advance of its upcoming publication.

    “Parents who repeat words more often to their infants have children with better language skills a year and a half later,” said co-author Rochelle Newman, PhD, professor and chair of UMD’s Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP). “A lot of recent focus has been on simply talking more to your child — but how you talk to your child matters. It isn’t just about the number of words.”

    An announcement from the University of Maryland (UMD) reports that Newman and co-authors Nan Bernstein Ratner, PhD, HESP professor, and Meredith L. Rowe, EdD, Harvard University associate professor of education, tracked maternal-child directed speech to prelinguistic (7-month-old) infants. They specifically measured the infants’ ability to understand language at seven months, and followed up on the children’s vocabulary outcomes at age two. They found that the toddlers who had stronger language outcomes differed in two ways from their peers: their parents had repeated words more often, and they were more tuned in to language as infants, and thus better able to process what was being said.

    “It takes two to tango,” said Bernstein Ratner. “Both the child and the parent play a role in the child’s later language outcomes, and our study is the first to show that.”

    The researchers believe their findings will be of immediate use to families. While it has been clinically proven that parents naturally speak more slowly and in a specialized “sing-song” tone to their children, the findings from this study may encourage parents to be more conscious of repeating words to maximize language development benefits.

    “It is the quality of the input that matters most, not just the quantity,” said Rowe.

     According to the announcement, this new study builds on research from HESP that focuses on exploring infant language development. Newman and two of her then-graduate students recently published “Look at the gato! Code-switching in speech to toddlers” in the Journal of Child Language. That study examined the phenomenon of “code-switching,” wherein adults speak more than one language and “mix” those languages when speaking to their children. Parents are often told that this type of language mixing is bad for children, but Newman and her colleagues found that this “code-switching” has no impact on children’s vocabulary development.