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Two-way conversation essential for development

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Language is crucial to how children grow, develop and learn and for language development to be most effective there must be two-way conversation between the kids and other kids and their teachers.

Researchers found that the speech children heard from other children was positively related to their own language use, that is children who heard the most from their peers learn more new words and vocalised more during the course of the year.

They found a positive association between a teacher talking and children's language use and development – but only when that teacher talked to the child in a back-and-forth conversation, rather than just talking to the child with no opportunity for the child to respond.

University of Miami Assistant Professor of Psychology Lynn Perry, and a team of fellow researchers examined child speech interactions over the course of a year at the UM Linda Ray Intervention Center.

The study, which measured language experiences in a childcare setting specifically for low-income, high-risk children, examined how language use and development in two- and three-year-old children was influenced by what they heard from their teachers and their peers.

Using a device called a Language ENvironment Analysis (LENA) recorder, Perry collected hundreds of hours of audio recordings at the center. Children wore the LENA recorder in a pocket on the front of their T-shirts once a week. LENA software then assessed whether the recorded audio was speech or not, and whether the speech came from the child wearing the recorder or from an adult or another child talking to them.

"One important aspect of the study that stands out to me is how important it was to see those conversational turns with teachers, that back-and-forth conversation with the child is very beneficial. We talked to the teachers at Linda Ray about the results, and they are very excited about this finding and currently brainstorming additional opportunities to have conversations with children," adds Perry.


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