The presence of background noise in the home or at school may make it more difficult for toddlers to learn new words, a new study has found.
The environments children are in, including how much and what kinds of stimulation they are exposed to, influence what and how they learn, researchers said.
One important task for children is zeroing in on the information that is relevant to what they are learning and ignoring what is not, they said.
The study by researchers from University of Wisconsin- Madison in the US has found that the presence of background noise in the home or at school makes it more difficult for toddlers to learn new words.
The study also found that providing additional language cues may help young children overcome the effects of noisy environments.
“Modern homes are filled with noisy distractions such as TV, radio and people talking that could affect how children learn words at early ages,” said Brianna McMillan from University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Our study suggests that adults should be aware of the amount of background speech in the environment when they are interacting with young children,” she said.
In the study, 106 children ages 22 to 30 months took part in three experiments in which they were taught names for unfamiliar objects and then tested on their ability to recognise the objects when they were labelled.
First, toddlers listened to sentences featuring two new words.
Then they were taught which objects the new names corresponded to.
Finally, the toddlers were tested on their ability to recall the words.
In the first experiment, 40 toddlers (ages 22 to 24 months) heard either louder or quieter background speech when learning the new words.
Only toddlers who were exposed to the quieter background speech successfully learned the words.
In the second experiment, a different group of 40 toddlers (ages 28 to 30 months) was tested to determine whether somewhat older children could better overcome the effects of background noise.
Again, only when background noise was quieter could the older toddlers successfully learn the new words.
In the third experiment, 26 older toddlers were first exposed to two word labels in a quiet environment.
Next, the toddlers were taught the meanings of four word labels – two they had just heard and two new ones.
Toddlers were taught the meanings of all these labels in the same noisy environment that impaired learning in the second experiment.
The children learned the new words and their meanings only when they had first heard the labels in a quiet environment, suggesting that experience with the sounds of the words without distracting background noise helps children subsequently map those sounds to meaning, researchers said.
The findings were published in the journal Child Development.