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Toddlers, Infants Capable of Understanding Unfamiliar Accented Language

Apr 16, 2014 02:48 PM EDT
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Comprehending your own language when spoken in an unfamiliar accent can be a challenging no matter your age, but a new pair of studies suggest than children are capable of understanding unfamiliar accents at a remarkably young age.

By the age of 2, children can comprehend speakers who use a never-before-heard accent to speak to them remarkably well, researchers found.

Additionally, by the age of 15 months, children are capable of quickly gaining an understanding of accented speech after hearing the speaker for a short time.

"Fifteen-month-olds typically say relatively few words, yet they can learn to understand someone with a completely unfamiliar accent," said Elizabeth Johnson, an associate professor with the University of Toronto's Psychology department. "This shows that infants' language comprehension abilities are surprisingly sophisticated."

Johnson and her colleagues wanted to test how early children could understand their native language being spoken in an unfamiliar accent.

After running their experiments, the researchers determined that young children can rapidly adapt to their native language being spoken in an unfamiliar accent, which speaks to the great developmental steps children are capable of when learning language.

"Adults with many years of language experience typically get better at understanding unfamiliar accents over time," said Marieke van Heugten,of the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique in Paris. "These studies show that infants, who are still in the process of figuring out their native language, possess similar abilities from very early on."

The researchers published studies related to this research in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and in Language Learning and Development.

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