Samtaler GØR noget ved børns hjerner!

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Et spritnyt studie fra MIT viser, at samtale er vigtigere for børns hjerneudvikling end bare at ‘hælde ord’ på dem. Så nu er der konkrete beviser på, at ‘tal med dit barn’ er livsvigtigt for børnene!

En gruppe forskere fra Harvard University har kigget på sammenhængen mellem børns sproglige ‘omgivelser’ og deres neurale sprogprocessering. Det viser sig, at barnets erfaringer med samtaler kan påvirke den neurale sprogprocessering i større omfang end dets socioøkonomiske status eller antallet af ord, som barnet har hørt.

Children’s early language exposure impacts their later linguistic skills, cognitive abilities, and academic achievement, and large disparities in language exposure are associated with family socioeconomic status (SES). However, there is little evidence about the neural mechanisms underlying the relation between language experience and linguistic and cognitive development. Here, language experience was measured from home audio recordings of 36 SES-diverse 4- to 6-year-old children. During a story-listening functional MRI task, children who had experienced more conversational turns with adults—independently of SES, IQ, and adult-child utterances alone—exhibited greater left inferior frontal (Broca’s area) activation, which significantly explained the relation between children’s language exposure and verbal skill. This is the first evidence directly relating children’s language environments with neural language processing, specifying both an environmental and a neural mechanism underlying SES disparities in children’s language skills. Furthermore, results suggest that conversational experience impacts neural language processing over and above SES or the sheer quantity of words heard.

The MIT team set out [to compare] the brain scans of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

As part of the study, the researchers used a system called Language Environment Analysis (LENA) to record every word spoken or heard by each child. Parents who agreed to have their children participate in the study were told to have their children wear the recorder for two days, from the time they woke up until they went to bed.

The recordings were then analyzed by a computer program that yielded three measurements: the number of words spoken by the child, the number of words spoken to the child, and the number of times that the child and an adult took a “conversational turn” — a back-and-forth exchange initiated by either one.

The researchers found that the number of conversational turns correlated strongly with the children’s scores on standardized tests of language skill, including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. The number of conversational turns also correlated with more activity in Broca’s area, when the children listened to stories while inside an fMRI scanner.

These correlations were much stronger than those between the number of words heard and language scores, and between the number of words heard and activity in Broca’s area.

This result aligns with other recent findings (…) but there’s still a popular notion that there’s this 30-million-word gap, and we need to dump words into these kids — just talk to them all day long, or maybe sit them in front of a TV that will talk to them. However, the brain data show that it really seems to be this interactive dialogue that is more strongly related to neural processing.

The researchers believe interactive conversation gives children more of an opportunity to practice their communication skills, including the ability to understand what another person is trying to say and to respond in an appropriate way. Passively watched screens clearly do not bring the same sort of interaction as real conversation.

While children from higher-income families were exposed to more language on average, children from lower-income families who experienced a high number of conversational turns had language skills and Broca’s area brain activity similar to those of children who came from higher-income families.

The study found a broad range in how many conversational “turns” parents and child took in the course of an hour, from just 90 to as many as 400. In [the] analysis, the conversational turn-taking seems like the thing that makes a difference, regardless of socioeconomic status. Such turn-taking occurs more often in families from a higher socioeconomic status, but children coming from families with lesser income or parental education showed the same benefits from conversational turn-taking.

The researchers hope their findings will encourage parents to engage their young children in more conversation. Although this study was done in children age 4 to 6, this type of turn-taking can also be done with much younger children, by making sounds back and forth or making faces, the researchers say: “One of the things we’re excited about is that it feels like a relatively actionable thing because it’s specific. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for less educated families, under greater economic stress, to have more conversation with their child. But at the same time, it’s a targeted, specific action, and there may be ways to promote or encourage that.”

Roberta Golinkoff, a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education, says the new study presents an important finding that adds to the evidence that it’s not just the number of words children hear that is significant for their language development.

“You can talk to a child until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not engaging with the child and having a conversational duet about what the child is interested in, you’re not going to give the child the language processing skills that they need,” says Golinkoff, who was not involved in the study. “If you can get the child to participate, not just listen, that will allow the child to have a better language outcome.”

Så. De vigtigste budskaber fra studiet er disse: “One, we need to talk to our children from the moment they’re born, and probably in utero. And two, that language needs to come out of a relationship — and that’s what this study really cements. It isn’t about streaming tape to a child through the course of a day with thousands and thousands of words, because those become meaningless. It’s really about the relationship.”

Udklip

Så det virker jo helt oplagt at gøre lidt reklame for Hanen og for Sprogins plakat med ét af Hanen-principperne ‘Strive for five’, der på dansk er blevet til det knapt så mundrette ‘Tilstræb fem turtagninger’.

Klik på billedet, så kommer du frem til plakaten, som du kan hente ganske gratis!

Lige så oplagt er det at slå et slag for sprogpakken, der om ‘følg barnets interesse’ anfører følgende: “Det er centralt at følge med i, hvad barnet er optaget af og vise interesse for det, barnet laver, da barnet netop tager afsæt i den fælles opmærksomhed, når det lærer sprog. Igennem den fælles opmærksomhed og den deraf følgende dialog understøttes barnets afkodning af mening og dets positive interesse i at lære sprog.”

Klik på billedet, så kommer du frem til Sprogpakkens Samtaler i hverdagen.


Kilder:
Goldberg C (2018): MIT brain study: Back-and-forth talk key to developing kids’ verbal skills; wbur.org
Romeo RR et al (2018): Beyond the 30-million-word gap: Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function; Psychological Science 14. februar 2018
Trafton A (2018): Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language; MIT News Office

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