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For adults, communicating in their mother tongue is easy and natural. However, this learning is a complex process that is influenced by several factors.
When very young children begin to learn language, factors such as the amount of conversation a child hears and the amount of time spent in communicative interactions with others appear to play a role. Perhaps less obvious is the fact that children’s own physical experiences with their environment help them learn new words.
In recent research in the field of cognitive science, we have studied how the process occurs, taking into account how children learn words that refer to something they can touch, grasp or interact with. We asked parents to rate how easily a child can physically interact with the object, idea or experience a word refers to. We found words that refer to objects that are easy to interact with and which, for children, are also words learned at an earlier age.
Spoon: An object that can be touched
For example, a word like “spoon” is usually learned earlier than a word like “sky”. And this relationship holds even when we consider other factors that can affect word learning, such as the frequency of a word in everyday language.
Words like “spoon” and “sky” are both relevant to everyday life, so children are likely to hear them very early in their developmental process. One difference between them is that the term “spoon” refers to something you can touch, grasp, and interact with, while the word “sky” does not refer to a touchable concept.
Why the experience of physical contact helps
Our results are consistent with previous studies in which infants and young children used small head-mounted body cameras to record their interactions with objects. These studies show that children’s own experience of physical contact with objects helps them learn new words.
For example, in one of the studies, researchers found that 18-month-olds were more likely to learn the name of a new object when they held it, and less likely to learn the name if their parents were holding him. Another study found that 15-month-olds who spent more time manipulating new objects learned more names by the time they reached 21 months.
Body cameras allow researchers to view the environment from a child’s perspective. This gives researchers clues as to why it’s easier for children to learn the names of objects they can touch and hold. At any given time, many different objects are within a child’s field of vision. When a parent names an object in the environment around it, the child needs to know which object the parent is talking about. But when children hold or touch a specific object, that object is much closer to them and fills a wider plane of their field of vision, making it easier for them to link the word their parents used to the object. that they see.
interactions with children
Physical experience is also related to how children use and process language. Words like “spoon” that refer to objects a child can easily interact with are named more quickly by children ages 6 and up. This is probably because the child’s experience of physical contact with the object facilitates the connection between the meaning of a word and the written letters or the sound of the word itself, a process that occurs every time whether we read or hear a word.
A more recent study also found that words referring to objects that are easy to interact with are easier to read and recognize for children in grades two through four. Interestingly, the researchers also found that children who spent more time in front of a screen each day were less likely to show this ability: they weren’t as quick or accurate in recognizing words that refer to objects in the world. immediate interaction. Indeed, increasing screen viewing time may reduce the quantity and quality of physical contact experiences that children have with objects in their environment.
Playing and naming objects is important
Learning words is easier when a child can interact with an object while hearing the name of that object, rather than seeing the object presented by a parent or on a screen. This is not possible for all objects, and children will learn the words for concepts they cannot touch, such as “sky”, even without physical interaction. But this research shows that giving children the ability to pick up on and feel the things they learn to point to can be helpful, provided it can be done safely.
When children touch, grasp and interact with objects in their environment, they develop their motor skills. By studying how children learn different types of words, our research illustrates how experiences of physical contact are important not only for a child’s motor learning, but also for their word learning.
This means that giving children more opportunities to interact and physically contact objects in their real, not virtual, environment is good for their bodies and their brains.
Emiko Muraki is a PhD candidate in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Calgary. Penny Pexman is a professor of psychology at the University of Calgary.
Muraki and Pexman both receive funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Pexman also receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
The University of Calgary funds, as a founding partner, The Conversation.
Republished under a Creative Commons license from The Conversation.