How ‘knowing less’ can boost language development in children

Published by  News Archive

On 29th Oct 2019

Children may learn new words better when they learn them in the context of other words they are just learning – according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Researchers investigated how 18-24-month-olds learn new words – in the context of words they already know well and those they don’t.

The findings help explain how children learn new words and suggest a new way that parents and carers could help boost language development.

Dr Larissa Samuelson, from UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “We wanted to find out more about children’s ability to learn and remember new words.

“Previous work suggests that when children hear a word they do not know and an object they have never seen in the context of some objects that they can already name, such as a toy or a ball, they guess the new word refers to the new thing.

“We wanted to know if the strength of a child’s knowledge of familiar things, how well they know what ‘cars’ or ‘balls’ are, mattered for learning new words and remembering them.

82 children took part in the study. In two experiments the team taught them some new words for things they couldn’t name – such as honey-dippers and strainers.

Dr Samuelson said: “We practiced these new words until they knew the honey-dipper was called a ‘zeb’ and the strainer was a ‘yok’. We then showed them a new thing - a bird toy - in the context of either the objects they knew well - a ball and a car - or things they had only just learned to name -- the ‘zeb’ honey-dipper and ‘yok’ strainer.

“When we asked them to get the ‘blick’, they were good at linking this new word to the bird-toy when it was presented with the familiar things, and with the just learned things.”

But, after a five minute colouring break, the children were not so good at remembering what a ‘blick’ was when they had learned it in the context of objects they already knew.

“It was really surprising that when we asked them to get the ‘blick’ after a short break, they did better when they had initially leaned the word in the context of the less well-known things – the ‘zeb’ honey dipper and the ‘yok’ strainer.

“We had expected that a stronger knowledge of familiar words would be better for learning new words, but we found the opposite was true.

“This tells us new things about how children use the words they know to learn new words.

“Our previous research has shown that even though two-year-old children are very good at making new word-object links, they don’t always remember them. But if we let them play with the new objects for just a bit - as little as a minute - before they make the link, it helps.

“Also, when they are just a bit older at 30 months, they can remember the links better.

“This new work suggests another way we might be able to help boost children’s ability to remember new word-object links - by teaching them in the context of other things that they are just learning.

“It seems counterintuitive, but it is perhaps because the less well-known items don’t compete with the new words as much. If they learn new words in the context of playing with well-known items such as a ball, book or car, they don’t process the new word as much.”

The research was carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Iowa.

Sometimes it is better to know less: How known words influence referent selection and retention in 18 to 24-month-old children’ is published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Latest News

  News
Woman at her desk holding the nape of her neck
24 Sep 2020

Lockdown impact: worsening symptoms for people with bone, joint and muscle pain

People with bone, joint and muscle pain saw their symptoms worsen during lockdown – according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Read more >
  News
Lorries queued on the M20 motorway in Kent
23 Sep 2020

No deal Brexit risks queues at the border and food shortages, new academic report finds

The most immediate and visible impact of the UK failing to get a deal with the EU will be seen at the border, with risks of queues and shortages of food, a new...

Read more >
  News
23 Sep 2020

Putting virtual rehab for stroke patients to the test

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have been putting virtual reality rehabilitation for stroke survivors to the test.

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
  News
Reconstruction of the Roman Temple the Caistor team investigated
23 Sep 2020

East Anglian Studies uncovers region's rich history

Read more >
  News
Subtropical Atlantic Forest, Southern Brazil
15 Sep 2020

Study reveals impact of centuries of human activity in American tropics

The devastating effects of human activity on wildlife in the American tropics over the last 500 years are revealed in a new study published today.

Read more >
  News
Soldiers in a savannah
14 Sep 2020

Study examines how civil wars affect wildlife populations

A new study comprehensively reveals how civil wars impact wildlife in countries affected by conflict.

Read more >
  News
Union Jack and EU flag on cracked wall background

Amending Brexit deal will increase frictions within UK and beyond

The government’s decision to scrap part of its Brexit deal will increase frictions with the EU, as well as threatening the fragile political equilibrium in...

Read more >
  News
testing for coronavirus in a lab
07 Sep 2020

Testing Initiative at UEA

UEA intends to offer coronavirus testing to all students and staff working on campus at the start of term.

Read more >
  News
04 Sep 2020

UEA lecturer makes Newton Prize shortlist

A University of East Anglia (UEA) Honorary Senior Lecturer, Sue Down, is part of a team that has been shortlisted for the 2020 Newton Prize. 

Read more >
  News
Researcher with gloved hand holding vial containing HIV blood sample, with more samples in the background
27 Aug 2020

The patients left behind by HIV research

People with HIV from BAME communities, women and heterosexual men are underrepresented in HIV studies – according to new research from UEA and Western Sydney...

Read more >