Study says toddlers who get to play with other kids from an early age have more chances of being "particularly good at certain word learning skills.”
The first language teacher of young learners is the environment - the speech they are exposed to is what introduces them to language. Children, like those in daycares, get exposure to more extensive environmental speech not just from adults and parents but also from other children.
Recent research conducted at the University of Waterloo studied the word processing abilities of the toddlers who mostly spend their time with adults in comparison to those who get to spend more time with other groups of children. The researchers were keen to find how well the toddlers understood each other’s language.
All the kids were good at deciphering other children’s language, but it was interesting to see how those who spend more time with other kids could better associate a new word to a new object, an essential part of word learning.
Katherine White, professor of psychology at Waterloo and a co-author of the study, said, “We wanted to know if more exposure hearing other children speak would affect toddlers' ability to process child speech.”
Two experiments were conducted across 88 toddlers of 21 to 23 months (and their parents). In experiment 1, they compared their instruction processing abilities from an adult speaker and a 7-year-old child, who could pronounce a familiar or new object's name in the standard way. In experiment 2, they tested the toddler's speech processing sensitivity by having the child mispronounce the object names.
"Our study demonstrates that toddlers are extremely good at processing the speech of young children and that this is true even for toddlers who do not have a lot of experience with other children. This means that they could use this kind of speech, in addition to adult speech, to learn about their native language(s)," she added.
Young children’s speech differs from adults in multiple ways. Some of the frequent changes include the substitution of one word for others like 'fumb' for 'thumb' or complete omission of words like 'hair' for 'chair.'
Most of these significant deviances start reducing by four years, and they are absent to a great extent after six years. However, even after these larger deviations are gone, there is less accuracy and more variability in the speech produced by children compared to adults. With all these deviations and increased inconsistency, deciphering child speech may be more difficult for young language learners than processing adult speech.
Due to the variability during the learning process, kids pay more attention to phonetic detail and the generalizability of word representations. It can also be possible that exposure to multiple speakers impacts the kids’ vocabulary size, which in turn affects novel label processing.
So, if you have observed a change in your tots vocabs or speech since he started going to play-school or daycare, you are absolutely correct!