I’ve been pondering over Patricia Kuhl’s findings on how babies learn language and a couple of thoughts have come to mind that I wanted to throw out there. I don’t have any answers, just questions – or perhaps it’s just food for thought. Why I think it is important is because the answers will affect the way we teach our children and help them learn to communicate.
In her studies, Kuhl found that babies could not learn a language by listening only to auditory recordings. They figured that it might have something to do with the lack of visual cues, but then they found that even video recordings of people speaking did not help. However, when you presented a live person, the babies were able to learn. So what does that translate to in terms of how a child picks up language?
We’ve acknowledged that babies are very social beings which is why they need a live person present to speak a language because it can be learned. It was said that babies needed to see faces because being able to lip read is part of the process of learning a language. However, if that is the case, then why doesn’t it work when they watch individuals speaking on a TV screen? Surely they can lip read off a TV just as easily as they can off a real person?
And if they need to lip read then does that mean talking to your child in the car is useless? After all, if you are in the driver’s seat and your child is buckled up in the back seat then he can’t read your lips anyway. Which would also mean that if you were talking to your baby as you walked about your room doing another activity, it is ineffectual. What you would need to do is sit facing your baby. I don’t know the answer to this, but if anyone has read anything, I’d be interested to know the answers.
These are my hypotheses, however. Maybe it’s not only just lip reading going on. Perhaps there is a loss in sound quality when listening to recordings that somehow affect a child’s ability to pick up that language? Or maybe the lack of presence of a real person signifies to baby that the sounds being made by the person on the TV is not really that important? Kuhl said that babies learn language by taking statistics on all the sounds that they hear, so perhaps sounds made by non-entities (TV included – even if there is a person on the screen) are not considered valid data?
Whatever the answer, I think this is a critical piece of information that still remains unanswered, and until we find out we won’t really know the best way to faciliate language acquisition. We know what sort of things help, but if we wanted to channel our efforts, we would be guessing. Then again, perhaps it is enough simply to know that to help facilitate language acquisition we just need to talk, sing and read more to our babies and to use parenthese (that high-pitched, sing-song voice), and maybe I’m just overthinking this one…