“Background Noise May Hurt Toddlers’ Ability to Learn Words”

February 10th, 2017

Background noise such as the TV, radio, and people talking can negatively impact how your child learns new words at an early age.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that children ages 22-30 months old were able to better learn words when they were exposed to language in a quiet environment.

This study looked at three experiments. The first two experiments measured toddlers’ success in recognizing unfamiliar objects. Toddlers listened to sentences read aloud that included the names of unfamiliar objects in settings with quiet and loud background noise. Only the participants who were exposed to the quieter background noise setting were able to learn the words. The third experiment involved researchers presenting two new words through sentences. The sentences were read aloud in a quiet environment and also in the same louder background environment used in the first two experiments. The toddlers were only able to learn the words they heard in the quiet environment. “Hearing new words in fluent speech without a lot of background noise before trying to learn what objects the new words correspond to may help very young children master new vocabulary” (The ASHA Leader, October 2016).

Research shows that loud background noise can negatively affect your child’s language development. Encouraging language development and growth for your child can be as simple as turning the noise down and turning your voice up. As parents/caregivers living in a fast-paced, multi-tasking driven world, we need to make sure we slow down and create intentional learning environments filled with rich language input. Here are some practical ways you can apply this in your home:

  1. Model simple short words and phrases (e.g., “Car. My car. Where is the car?”). As your child grows in their utterance length from 1 to 2 to 3 words, continue to add words to his/her utterance to teach new words, phrases, and sentences.
  2. Set aside an allotted time per day to play with your child. Turn the TV and devices volume down or off to limit distractions. Play at eye level with your child.
  3. Hold a toy or object next to your face when you label it for your child. This encourages your child to look at your mouth when you talk, which helps oral motor development to accurately produce words.
  4. Add words to your child’s gestures. If your child reaches or points for an object, hand it to him/her while saying the word. Over time, try pausing before adding words to your child’s gesture to allow time for your child to try to say the word him/herself.
  5. Praise ALL early attempts/verbalizations/sounds as words, even if they are hard to understand.
  6. Try to avoid anticipating your child’s every need by delaying giving your child what he/she wants until they attempt to verbally request it him/herself. Gestures and signs also count as attempts!

Please consult your speech-language pathologist for any further information or questions you may have. We hope this was helpful!

Written by: The Oceanside Therapy Group Speech Department

Source: ​Blum, Haley, ed. “Background Noise May Hurt Toddlers’ Ability to Learn Words.” ASHA Leader Oct. 2016: n. pag. Print.