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Babies' First Words Reflect Their Interests

They speak about what intrigues them, study finds

TUESDAY, March 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A baby's first words, whether it's "cookie" or "kitty," are likely an indication of what she finds most interesting, say U.S. researchers.

They also concluded that younger and older babies learn words in different ways.

A Temple University team found that younger babies learn words for new objects based on how interested they are in the object, while toddlers place more importance on words for objects mentioned by people speaking to them.

This suggests that when they're with their infants, parents may want to talk more about what their babies are interested in rather than what interests the parents, the researchers said.

They conducted two studies in which 10-month-old infants were taught new words for "interesting" or "boring" items. The interesting objects were brightly colored and made noise or had moving parts and immediately captured the babies' attention. The boring items were dull in color and appearance.

The babies learned words for things they found interesting and paid little attention to cues from adults.

Lead researcher Shannon M. Pruden, a graduate student, said the results showed that, "10-month-olds simply 'glue' a label onto the most interesting object they see. Perhaps this is why children learn words faster when parents look at and label the object that infants already find of interest."

The research appears in the March/April issue of the journal Child Development.

The findings provide new information about how infants develop language, said study co-author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple University.

"The exciting thing is that a lot of people weren't even sure that 10-month-olds were paying attention," she said. This study shows that they're not just paying attention, they're actually learning words and parents should talk to them in order to help them in their language development, she added.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders outlines speech and language development milestones.

SOURCE: Society for Research in Child Development, news release, March 22, 2006
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