Thursday, July 05, 2007

People Are Better Teachers Than Teletubbies

In this bit of startling news,
Toddlers learn their first words better from people than from Teletubbies.
But the initial comparison (discussed in the press release) wasn't between live Teletubbies and live people, or between televised Teletubbies and televised people, but between televised Teletubbies and live people.
Turn Off TV To Teach Toddlers New Words

. . .

Children younger than 22 months may be entertained, but they do not learn words from the television program, said Marina Krcmar, associate professor of communication at Wake Forest and author of the study.

"With the tremendous success of programs such as 'Teletubbies' that target very young children, it has become important to understand what very young children are taking away from these programs," Krcmar said. "We would like to think it could work, that Teletubbies and other programs can teach initial language skills. That is not true."

In the study, Krcmar evaluated the ability of children ages 15 -- 24 months to learn new words when the words were presented as part of a "Teletubbies" program. She then evaluated their ability to learn the new words from an adult speaker in the same room with them.
However, it was good to see mention of the appropriate comparison at the end of the press release:
As part of the study, Krcmar also found that the children were just as attentive to an adult speaker on the small screen as they were to the Teletubbies characters. And, the children identified the target words more successfully in response to a video of an adult speaker than to the Teletubbies.
The results appeared in the journal Media Psychology. I don't have online access to the article, but one question is whether the researchers considered Teletubby Talk:


Big hug
It appears not. And what do the show's creators say about language acquisition?
The show's co-creator Andy Davenport studied speech sciences before embarking on a career in children's TV. So the development of Teletubby talk came about through a combination of his experience and observing children closely.

"We thought long and hard about the way the Teletubbies should speak," says Andy. "After a lot of thought we came up with a play language based on the early speech of a young child. To small children, Teletubby words carry as much meaning as normal words."


Marina Krcmar, Bernard Grela, Kirsten Lin. (2007). Can Toddlers Learn Vocabulary from Television? An Experimental Approach. Media Psychology, Vol. 10, No. 1: pages 41-63.

This study was inspired by the rise in television targeting toddlers and preverbal infants (e.g., Teletubbies, Baby Mozart). Overall, we investigated if very young children who are in the early stages of language acquisition can learn vocabulary quickly (fast map) from television programs. Using a fast mapping paradigm, this study examined a group (n = 48) of toddlers (15—24 months) and their ability to learn novel words. Utilizing a repeated measures design, we compared children's ability to learn various novel words in 5 different conditions. These included the presentation and identification of a novel word by an adult speaker via live presentation when the toddler was attending (i.e., joint reference), an adult via live presentation when the toddler was not attending, an adult speaker on television, and an edited clip from a children's television program (Teletubbies). Overall, the toddlers were most successful in learning novel words in the joint reference condition. They were significantly less successful in the children's program condition. Furthermore, there was a significant interaction between age and condition on children's performance. Both younger (15—21 months) and older (22—24 months) participants identified the target objects when they were taught the novel word by an adult speaker; however, it appeared that children under the age of 22 months did not identify the target item when they were taught the novel word via the television program.

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