Researchers at Northwestern University looked to see whether children can use their knowledge of verbs they already know to learn new nouns. The participants included thirty 19-month-olds and twenty nine 15-month-olds, and they were acquiring English as their first language.
The children were shown familiar images (e.g. bird, bottle, cow, dog, horse, spoon) and abstract images on a screen and overheard people having a conversation about one of the images, then they were shown these images again and they were prompted to find the object that was previously mentioned and the researchers followed their eye gaze. According to the results, by 19 months, infants used their verb knowledge to identify new nouns. Researchers concluded that even before infants begin to talk in sentences, they pay attention to the way new words are used in conversation. They use the rest of the sentence to draw a meaning for the new word (Ferguson, Graf & Waxman, 2014).
This study shows us that by hearing what an object does (the verb), infants learn what the object is. We’ve talked about “talking to your children” in our previous posts. It is okay to point and say the names of pictures/objects around you, but it is also important for your infants to hear natural conversation. For example, if you take your child to the zoo and point to a lion and tell him/her to look at the lion, your child may not know what a lion is, but if you tell him/her the lion is sleeping, he/she can conclude that “lion” must be the animal that is sleeping.
I tell my kiddos’ parents to use self-talk and talk about what they are doing to their infants. I’ve heard parents tell me that they are embarrassed to “have conversations” with their infants in public. There is nothing to be embarrassed about! At first, it might feel a little odd talking to an infant who can’t talk back about what you are buying at the grocery store, but you will eventually get used to it and it will become a habit. By having a natural conversation with your infant about what you are doing and what is going on around you, you are exposing him/her to so much language. The more language children hear, the more words they will know. Even if they do not seem to listen, you are still exposing them to more language. Use nouns (e.g. bird, dog, chair), but also use lots of verbs in your conversations (e.g. The dog is barking).
Ferguson, B., Graf, E., & Waxman, S. (2014). Infants use known verbs to learn novel nouns: Evidence from 15- and 19-month-olds. 131, 139- 146.
Have a great weekend!