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Other cultures, other languages: learning to talk around the world

Added 19 Dec 2017 | Updated 30 Nov 18


The resource

In this resource Professor Elena Lieven, Director of ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development (LuCiD), discusses the ways in which babies and young children are looked after and learn to talk in remote parts of the world.

In the 1970s, Lieven lived in Papua New Guinea where children spent all their time with their mothers, carried in slings up to the age of about two, and then perched on top of great piles of wood and food carried by their mothers as they walked long distances to their gardens and back. As the mothers walked to and from the gardens they would give a running commentary to their children about who was in each garden and what they were doing. This made the professor think about the different ways that toddlers learn words.

How talk matters to babies

Lieven explains that:

  • During the first year of a baby’s life they become increasingly sensitive to the sounds, word and language
  • There are big differences in how much babies are talked to, not only between caregivers in our own cultures but also across cultures
  • There is evidence suggesting correlations between the amount mothers talk to their 18-month-old toddlers and the speed with which the toddlers process speech

Early development and communication development in other cultures

  • In some cultures people think that babies shouldn’t be over-excited by too vigorous interaction and in others, they don’t see the point of talking to babies until they can talk
  • Babies around the world work to a similar developmental timetable - smiling around 6 weeks, reaching out for objects around 4-6 months, walking and starting to talk at around one year

Find out more about LuCid

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