Talking Toys: Helping or Hurting Young Language Learners?

A new and very interesting study in JAMA Pediatrics discovered that toys marketed as language promoters don’t prove to be so in most cases. In fact, the study found that these toys in fact, hindered the language learning process in young children.

Professor Anna Sosa, of Northern Arizona University, led the study and provided participating families three different types of toys: books, traditional toys like stacking blocks and a shape sorter, and electronic toys.

We had a talking farm — animal names and things,” Sosa says of the electronic toys. “We had a baby cellphone. And we had a baby laptop. So you actually open the cover and start pushing buttons, and it tells you things.”

The research indicates that in order for a child to understand, speak and eventually read or write a language, they need to hear it repetitively. As a Language Testing company, LTI knows first-hand just how important it is for early adopters of a language to hear the language they seek to learn. This is no different for an adult as it is for a child – actually it’s even more vital for a child.

The study focused on approximately 24 children between 10 and 16 months of age and recorded the infants playing at home with parents. Sosa says she picked those toys “because they are advertised as language-promoters for babies in this age range. “The parent-child couples were asked to play separately with each type of toy over the course of three days.

Children, adults, and anyone would be better suited and equipped to learn a language by hearing it.  The research shows that interaction — especially the one-on-one time a child spends with a parent — is crucial because early learning is an intensely social process.

“When there’s something else that’s doing some talking, the parents seem to be sitting on the sidelines and letting the toy talk for them and respond for them,” Sosa says.

SOURCE: nprED/Cory Turner