Children are known to mimic and learn speech patterns from others, and previous research found that infants give selective attention to their mother’s voice over the sounds of other females. But now, a new study by linguistics experts suggests that children learn new words best from other children.
“Much of what we know about the world is learned from other people,” said Yuanyuan Wang from The Ohio State University. “This is especially true for young children.”
According to Wang, speech is loaded with important paralinguistic information about the speaker including age, gender, and even social class. Children learn to derive this information from speech to process and understand specific information about the speaker.
The researchers designed two experiments to investigate what age group was most influential to two-year-olds based on how they pick up new words.
In the first experiment, toddlers watched side-by-side video clips of two speakers reciting a nursery rhyme. The speech they heard matched either the age or gender of one of the two speakers. The toddlers were successful at matching the voices to visual attributes on the screen.
In the second experiment, toddlers were taught new words from speakers of various ages. The study revealed that the toddlers learned new words more effectively from other children.
“It is fascinating to learn children showed selected learning from other child talkers,” said Wang. “This has implications for social cognition and selective social learning.”
Wang believes that toddlers may be more interested in the sound of other child speakers that have speech patterns which resemble their own. This naturally selective learning process may serve as a foundation for preferences among social groups later in life.
“Sensitivity to talker properties is found to be related to speech processing and language development,” said Wang. “These are related to later personal, academic, social and overall achievements.”
The research will be presented at the 177th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.