‘Ums’ and ‘ahs’ help toddlers learn language

Stumbling over your words tells toddlers to pay attention and will help them learn, claim researchers

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Find yourself saying “um” and “uh” when trying to explain something to your little one? Don’t worry – it will actually help them learn, according to new research. 

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These stumbles and hesitations in speech, technically known as “disfluences”, signal to a toddler that he is about to learn something new and should pay close attention.

“We’re not advocating that parents add disfluencies to their speech, but I think it’s nice for them to know that using these verbal pauses is OK – the ‘uhs’ and ‘ums’ are informative,” said the study’s lead author Celeste Kidd.

The researchers studied three groups of toddlers between the ages of 18 and 30 months. They found that older children paid more attention to an image of an unfamiliar item when a voice explaining it stumbled and said, “Look at the, uh…”

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The effect was only significant in toddlers older than 2 years, with the researchers reasoning that younger children haven’t yet learned that hesitations in speech tend to precede new or unknown words.

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