Children Understand Familiar Voices Better Familiar voices can improve spoken language processing among school-age children, according to a study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. However, the advantage of hearing a familiar voice helps children to process and understand only words they already know well—not new words that aren’t in their ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   December 01, 2014
Children Understand Familiar Voices Better
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Development / Normal Language Processing / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   December 01, 2014
Children Understand Familiar Voices Better
The ASHA Leader, December 2014, Vol. 19, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.19122014.16
The ASHA Leader, December 2014, Vol. 19, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.19122014.16
Familiar voices can improve spoken language processing among school-age children, according to a study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. However, the advantage of hearing a familiar voice helps children to process and understand only words they already know well—not new words that aren’t in their vocabularies.
The findings, published August 27 in the Journal of Child Language, suggest that children store information about a speaker to retrieve and harness at a later time, similar to what has been found for adult listeners.
What’s known as the “familiar talker advantage” emerges in situations in which it is difficult to hear. For example, in a loud or crowded room, adults can better understand people whose voices they already know. However, little research has gauged how children process familiar versus unfamiliar voices.
Author Susannah Levi, assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders, asked 41 children (age 7–12) to listen to a series of words and repeat them, to provide a baseline for how accurately each child identified words. The children then spent five days learning the voices of three German-English bilingual speakers, represented by cartoon characters in a computer program. The characters spoke a series of single words, and the children learned to identify the characters by their voices.
Finally, the children were asked to repeat words—half of them common like “cat,” “book” and “hug,” and the other half uncommon or even unknown, such as “loathe,” “sage” and “void”—spoken by six German-English bilingual speakers. Three of the voices were those of the recently learned characters.
The children could more accurately repeat the words spoken by familiar voices, demonstrating that their spoken language processing improved with familiar speakers. However, this improvement was limited only to words they were likely to know. Familiarity was not useful for words they didn’t know.
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December 2014
Volume 19, Issue 12