Television doesn’t help toddlers learn new words

Toddlers learn their first words better from people than from television, according to new research at Wake Forest University


The study, published in the June 21 issue of Media Psychology, found that children younger than 22 months may be entertained by, but do not learn words from TV shows.


In the study, Marina Krcmar, associate professor of communication at Wake Forest and author of the study, evaluated the ability of children ages 15 – 24 months to learn new words when the words were presented as part of a “Teletubbies” programme. She then evaluated their ability to learn the new words from an adult speaker in the same room with them.

Children younger than 22 months did not accurately identify an object when taught the new word by the television programme, but they were readily able to connect the word with the object when the word was presented by an adult standing in front of them, she said.

“We have known for years that children ages 3 and older can learn from programs like Sesame Street,” Krcmar said. “But, it seems television programming for children under the age of 2 does not help build vocabulary.”


The results of this study have important implications for language acquisition. It indicates exposure to language via television is insufficient for teaching language to very young children. To learn new words, children must be actively engaged in the process with responsive language teachers.

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