Learning Language: Skype Me!

Untitled design (2)Many studies have looked at the development of language skills in toddlers, but with the rapid advancement of technology, researchers at the University of Washington, The University of Delaware and Temple University were interested in understanding the role of interactive ‘video chats’ (such as Skype) when it comes to learning language.

Specifically, researchers sought to compare children’s learning across three different contexts: 1) live training (children were taught in-person), 2) interactive video chat (training taking place via Skype) and 3) pre-recorded video training (children watched a training video that had been pre-recorded).

Participants included 36 children (ages 2-3) who came in with their parents and were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions. Children were exposed to training on nonsensical action verbs such as ‘blicking,’ ‘frepping,’ and ’twilling.’ After training, their comprehension of the novel verbs was tested.

Results indicate that children only learned novel verbs in the live training and interactive video chats (Skype). This highlights the importance of meaningful social interaction between the trainer and child. Children that were in the pre-recorded video training did not have meaningful social interactions with the trainer (despite the fact that the trainer attempted superficial engagement by addressing the child directly). In other words, the trainer’s responses did not change regardless of the child actions or responses.

In summary, children were able to learn language when interactions with the trainer were in-person or via a video Skype chat, but not through a pre-recorded video. These results have larger implications for the types of screen media that are truly beneficial to children. Many children’s TV shows attempt to engage children and teach skills, however this research indicates that the most effective method of learning takes place when children are able to engage and interact with the person who is teaching them.

“As the entertainment industry becomes more technologically advanced, the ability to incorporate live interactions into media would transform passive viewing experiences into socially contingent learning situations.”

Roseberry, S., Hirsh‐Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2014). Skype me! Socially contingent interactions help toddlers learn language. Child development, 85(3), 956-970.

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