In the most recent issue of Scientific American they dove into the workings of aural feedback – the phenomenon where adults subconsciously listen to their own voice to tune the pitch, volume and pronunciation of their speech – and noted that a new study finds young children just learning how to talk do not utilize this function. The results of the study offers clues about how kids learn language—and how parents can help.
Here’s how the study worked. Ewen MacDonald, a professor at the Center for Applied Hearing Research at the Technical University of Denmark, wanted to see if toddlers could alter their pronunciation using aural feedback. He had adults and children play a video game in which they guided the actions of a robot by repeating the word “bed.” Through headphones, the players heard their own voice every time they spoke—but with the frequency spectrum shifted so they heard “bad” instead of “bed.” MacDonald found that adults and four-year-old kids tried to compensate for the error by pronouncing the word more like “bid,” but two-year-olds never budged from “bed,” suggesting that they were not using auditory feedback to monitor their speech.
Although the toddlers may have been suppressing the feedback mechanism, MacDonald thinks they might not start listening to themselves until they are older. If that is the case, they may rely heavily on feedback from adults to gauge how they sound.
Most parents and caregivers naturally repeat the words toddlers say, as praise and encouragement, however this study shows the true importance in social interaction for the development of speech in young children. “The general act of talking and interacting with the child in a normal way is the key,” says MacDomald.
Read the full storyat the Scientific American website.