New study reveals virtual conversations boost, not hinder, child language development

In an era dominated by virtual communication, a new joint study from University of Edinburgh and the University of Warwick funded by the Economic and Social Research Council has shed light on the influence of online interactions on the language and grammar development of young children.

Boy looking at a tablet screen

The study, titled "Now you see me, now you don’t: Children learn grammatical choices during online socially contingent video and audio interactions" explores the impact of living in a virtual world on the linguistic skills.

The findings suggest that online conversations can serve as a crucial and impactful source for children's language development.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual platforms for communication, even among the youngest members of society. Face-to-face conversations have given way to online calls, be it with friends or family. This research delves into a crucial question: Can children learn language effectively through virtual interactions, similar to the way they do in face-to-face conversations?

Contrary to assumptions that screentime may hinder language development, the study's findings reveal that young children indeed learn grammatical choices when conversing online, even when visual cues are absent.

The study focuses on the grammar development of 3- and 5-year-olds during online conversations. The research investigates whether children learn grammatical choices when engaging in virtual communication and whether the visibility of the interlocutor plays a significant role.

Parents already know the importance of engaging children in conversation for both social and linguistic development. Our findings show that face-to-face conversations are not the only way to support children’s language learning - online conversations can also play an important role.

Holly BraniganPersonal Chair in Psychology of Language and Cognition

The paper is available in full below.

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