Our multisensory and interactive Your Baby Can Learn! program introduces receptive, expressive, and written language skills simultaneously during young children’s window of opportunity for learning language. Most children learn language skills using a traditional approach of only hearing spoken language. Children often aren’t allowed to systematically see words until age five, when about 90% of their brains are already developed.
Your Baby Can Learn! is designed to teach language skills in a way that is similar to how babies learn about toys. When babies learn about toys or other objects, they explore and learn by touching, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and moving the toys or objects. Our program allows children to use multiple senses while learning language skills and encourages them to interact with their environments.
In our series, what the child sees matches what the child hears. We also sometimes ask children to use touch or other senses. Infant researchers often think of movement as an additional sense because of its importance in infant cognitive and motor development, and our programs use movements to encourage learning. We use this multisensory approach to introduce infants and children to native and non-native languages. For more on multisensory learning, please click here.
We encourage children to do physical actions such as clapping or waving, touching body parts, saying words, or answering questions. Interactive environments are generally better than passive environments for learning.
Infants Naturally Acquire Patterns of Language(s)
Infant research shows that infants are excellent at figuring out patterns.1 In a recent study, bilingual babies acquired patterns of two languages in the amount of time that monolingual babies acquired the patterns of one language.2
Cognitive Learning – Shape Bias
Infants initially categorize objects inefficiently. A baby who has the shape bias is more likely to organize objects according to their shapes instead of using color, material, size, or other less important attributes. The shapes of objects generally give more pertinent information about their functions than their colors or texture. For example, the shape of a cup gives more information about its function than its color, material, or texture does. Acquiring the shape bias helps children organize their world in a more logical manner and is associated with more rapid word learning.3, 4, 5 For more on the shape bias and how to teach this concept, please click here.
Since infants have more neuroplasticity than older children, it is easier for the brain to adapt earlier in life. We recommend that parents invest a lot of time and energy during the early years to help their babies learn.
Learning Language Skills Earlier Has Lasting Benefits
The earlier a child learns the language skills, the better, is a consistent finding in language research. This has been found with syntax ability,6 grammar,7 speech production,8 and sentence processing skills9. It has also been found with with learning non-native languages,10 written language,11,12,13,14,15 and sign language.16 A well-known study on this topic found that the number of words spoken to a child by age three was the single most important predictor of how many words the child would understand at age 11.17 A new study found that early word learning is also associated with the processing speed of the brain.18
Window of Opportunity for Learning Language Skills
The window of opportunity for learning language refers to a time period when it is easier to learn language skills at higher levels. The blue curve on the graph to the right shows that the number of new synapses for language acquisition peaks around 11 months of age.19 This does not mean that children cannot learn language skills when they are older. It means that there is a period of time where it is easier to learn at a high level.
Frequency Effects in Early Learning
A 2015 study highlighted that frequency effects are widespread for infants whether they are learning cognitive tasks such as facial recognition or learning language skills.20 They were found when infants/children were learning single words, simple syntactic constructions, and more advanced syntax as well as in other areas of language learning. The authors even proposed that “frequency effects are ubiquitous in every domain of child language acquisition.”
An example of a frequency effect is that babies usually learn words that they have heard more frequently before they learn less frequent words.21 Infants generally take many months to learn to understand their first words, then once they understand around fifty words, they go through a phase called “fast mapping” where they learn new words at a very fast pace. Our videos have many higher frequency words such as “clap,” “wave,” and “mouth”. We do this because a high level of frequency is generally needed to learn the first words. This is true whether the words are spoken or written and in native or in non-native languages.
Learning to Understand Spoken Language
There are numerous problems that infants need to solve when learning to understand spoken languages. For example, newborn infants hear a series of sounds and don’t know that individual words exist. Since people often talk with very little or no gap between words, learning that individual words exist and where they begin and end can be a difficult task for babies. Words frequently sound connected to other words because the sounds are often continuous when people speak in phrases or sentences. Seeing and hearing single words – compared to only hearing a series of words – could assist in solving some of the problems that infants must overcome when learning language.
The Natural Way of Learning Language Is with Meaning
When infants are learning to understand spoken language, parents do not break the language into artificial parts when talking to them. Instead, we talk to babies by saying complete words and sentences. However, for written language, the traditional approach has been to wait until most of the child’s brain is developed before teaching it. The focus is traditionally on teaching children the names of the letters, then the sounds of the letters, then the rules of phonics. With our approach, we introduce written language with meaning by showing young children written words and their meanings while they hear spoken words. We recommend doing this in several languages.
Use of the Television as a Multisensory Educational Tool
Television can provide multisensory information that can either help or hurt learning depending on what the child is watching.22 Dr. Titzer originally made educational videos for his own babies starting in 1991. He did this because because he did not think the content on educational TV was appropriate for infants. When used sparingly with the proper content, some research shows benefits for infants.23, 24 In contrast to many baby videos that have few words, our 5-DVD Your Baby Can Learn! series contains more than ten thousand spoken words. For tips on how to use the television as a multisensory tool, please click here.