Parents, Saying 'Um' and 'Uh' May Aid Learning

These pauses in speech alert toddlers to pay attention, researchers say

THURSDAY, April 14 (HealthDay News) -- Parents who say "um" and "uh" when speaking to their toddlers aren't setting a bad example; they're actually helping the children learn language more efficiently, according to researchers.

The study of children ages 18 to 30 months found that older children paid more attention to an image of an unfamiliar item when a voice explaining the item stumbled and said, "Look at the, uh..."

When a parent fumbles for the correct word, it signals to a child that he or she is about to learn something new and should pay close attention, said the team at the Baby Lab of the University of Rochester in New York.

This effect was only significant in children older than 24 months, likely because younger children haven't yet learned that stumbles and hesitations in speech (called disfluencies) tend to precede new or unknown words, explained lead author and graduate student Celeste Kidd and colleagues.

"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," Kidd said in a university news release.

The study is published online April 14 in the journal Developmental Science.

More information

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association outlines methods to encourage speech and language development.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of Rochester, news release, April 14, 2011

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