Study Sheds Light on Language Development

Mother and child smiling at each otherParents who invest in pricey video tutorials or flash cards to help their babies learn to speak are often disappointed with the results. Pediatricians and other child experts have long observed that children learn to speak most quickly by interacting with adults, not by watching television or listening to recordings. Until recently, no one knew what made social interaction more conducive to learning than language videos. But a small study published in Developmental Neuropsychology attempts to show how social interactions are the foundation upon which language is built.

Social Interaction: Vital for Language Development in Babies

One of the earliest forms of social contact babies make is gaze shifting. During gaze shifting, the baby looks at an object another person is viewing. An example of gaze shifting is available to watch here. Previous research by the authors of this new study suggests that gaze shifting may help further the development of language and social skills in preschoolers.

To further explore the role of gaze shifting in language development, researchers recruited 17 9.5-month-old babies from English-speaking homes. Each baby had 12 25-minute tutoring sessions over four weeks. During the sessions, tutors spoke to the babies in Spanish, read them books, and played with toys. At the beginning and end of the study period, researchers tallied how frequently the babies engaged in gaze shifting when researchers showed them a toy.

After the tutoring sessions were over, researchers measured how much Spanish the babies had learned by measuring brain responses to both English and Spanish with the assistance of an electroencephalography (EEG) cap. Researchers found that babies who engaged in the most gaze shifting also learned the most Spanish.

This, they argue, suggests that babies pay attention to adult behavior, taking cues from adults about what is interesting. The social information babies learn from adults eventually helps them develop language. The study’s authors emphasize that their research highlights the need for parents to spend time actively engaging with and speaking to their babies.


  1. Babies’ brains show that social skills linked to second language learning. (2015, July 27). Retrieved from

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  • Melinda


    July 27th, 2015 at 5:11 PM

    Parents. our children deserve better than being taught to read and speak via video.

  • Brock d

    Brock d

    July 28th, 2015 at 3:07 PM

    I want my voice to be the first thing that my child hears in the morning and the last thing that he hears at night. That is part of my job as a parent, to teach my child what a loving voice sounds like and all of the myriad of whys that it can be used in life. I don’t want to rely on some stranger to do that for me or to even supplement that for me. I want to read with him and sing with him and play with him, all the while nurturing and loving him the way that a good parent should.

  • Grace


    July 29th, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    Children imitate us and emulate us form the very earliest stages of development. We are the ones they learn pretty much everything that they need to know about communicating and about life until they start having more interaction with other people. I want those interactions and the time that I have with my own children to pay off and to be special because I know that I alone am setting them up to have the most success possible in their lives.

  • Cherise


    July 30th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    Don’t you just take more in when you are looking into another person’s eyes and really listening to what they have to say? I know I do.

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