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An image of two parents interacting with a young child

New research reveals that talking to babies and toddlers helps shape their developing brain.

The new study is one of the first to find a direct link to language input and brain structure early in a child’s development.

The research was led by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with Assistant Professor Samuel Forbes from our Department of Psychology, the University of Cambridge, the University of Iowa (US), Brown University (US), Leiden University Medical Centre (Germany) and Concordia University (Canada).

Early brain development

The team of researchers captured thousands of hours of language data from babies and toddlers wearing small recording devices.

They also carried out MRI scans to study the structure of their developing brains, looking in particular at a substance called myelin, which forms an insulating layer around nerves in the brain, and makes brain signals more efficient.

Speech in early years

The team studied data from 163 babies and toddlers, who wore small recording devices for up to 16 hours per day across three days.

These devices captured 6,208 hours of language data in total – including speech from adults, conversational turns and words spoken by the children themselves.

Researchers found that the toddlers who heard more speech in their everyday environment, also had more myelin, which is likely to support more sophisticated language processing.

In other words - talking to your kids is very important in early development as it helps to shape the brain.

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