How Do Babies Learn Language?

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Can you teach your baby new words, maybe even make him smarter, by putting him in front of the television? That was the promise of the popular “Baby Einstein” videos-parents get a break, and they don’t have to feel guilty because their toddler is actually learning while he watches TV.

Unfortunately, “Baby Einstein” and other instructional videos don’t actually appear to help infants and toddlers learn language.  A new study performed by researchers at the University of California in Riverside followed a group of 1 to 2-year-olds around for 6 weeks, assigning one group to watch “Baby Wordsworth” instructional DVDs. At the end of the study, there was no difference in language acquisition between the kids that watched the DVDs and the kids that did not.

In an article describing the study, the Time Magazine reports that there are two theories as to why instructional DVDs don’t work for toddlers. The first theory is that the DVD’s somehow “overstimulate” the child’s brain, so they aren’t able to pick up new words. The second theory is simply that the DVDs replace child-parent interaction, which is the main way that babies learn to recognise the sounds of their native language and pick up new words.

Time quoted Rebekah Richert, the psychologist who led the study, who explained that:

“What we are finding in our study is that the DVD itself is not a substitute for that kind of live social interaction. For children under the age of 2, social interaction is key to their ability to learning something like words.”

Of course, if you need a little bit of time to yourself, there’s nothing wrong with using the TV to distract your toddler temporarily while you regain your sanity. Just don’t pop in the “Baby Wordsworth” DVD and expect your toddler to start writing poetry.

Also, if you’re feeling a bit ripped off, the LA Times notes that Walt Disney Co is offering refunds on Baby Einstein DVDs through Thursday.