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Babies Learn Better with Others
A new study has found that young babies learning languages through video
materials do better with other babies around than they do alone.
The study confirms earlier studies that found a child’s learning can be
greatly improved when it happens together with another child.
The study was published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences. It included United States-based
researchers from the University of Connecticut and the University of
In general, very young children are able to learn languages much faster
than older children or adults. But researchers say there are still many
unanswered questions for why this happens.
In the new study, researchers wanted to build on earlier studies that
looked at the effectiveness of using video material in language learning
for very young children. Past research has shown that a young child’s
learning level using video is very low compared to language spoken in a
live presentation by humans.
One of the earlier studies measured the progress
of 9-month-old children who listened to Mandarin Chinese during a series
of visits to a learning laboratory.
The children heard the language presented in three different ways. Some
received a live social presentation. Others watched a video recording of
the live social presentation. A third group listened to an audio-only
recording of the live presentation.
The study measured the ability of the children to recognize differences
in Mandarin speech sounds that they heard. The children who listened to
recorded Mandarin did not experience the same learning progress as those
who received a live social presentation.
Those results suggested that the language-learning process “does not
require long-term listening and is enhanced by social interaction,” the
In the new study, researchers wanted to see if language learning through
video would be improved if the child went through the process with
another child instead of by themselves. The experiment involved 9-month-old
children who listened to Mandarin-language videos.
This time, the children were permitted to interact with a video screen.
The children could touch different parts of the screen to control the
presentation of Mandarin video clips they saw. The researchers noted
that the babies were “quick to learn” that touching the screen would
activate a video.
The researchers watched the children for signs of behavioral and brain
reactions to measure their skill level of processing language sounds.
They reported finding brain-based evidence that clearly showed a higher
level of language learning among the children who took part in the
experiment with another child. In addition, the study found that putting
the children together with new, unfamiliar partners led to even higher
Patricia Kuhl co-led the study. She is a professor at the University of
Washington and heads the Bezos Family Foundation for Early Childhood
Learning. She told Science Daily that the study demonstrates the
importance of working with a social partner to improve language learning.
Working with others - even at such a young age - “increases arousal,”
which in turn leads to increased learning, Kuhl said. “Social partners
not only provide information by showing us how to do things, but also
provide motivation for learning," she added.
The researchers said the results show that the increased learning only
appeared related to the social interaction between children.
They did not find clear links between higher learning levels and the
amount of viewing time or number of videos watched. Learning improvement
was also not directly affected by how many times the screen was touched
or how much movement ability a child had, the study found.