The Effects of Television on Learning to Speak

TV is linked with slower language acquisition because TV time tends to displace conversation time between babies and adults.

When it comes to learning speech, nothing beats a live conversation with your child. 

Research suggests that conversation, not listening to stories or watching TV, has the strongest positive effect on early language development. By contrast, listening to adult monologues- including storytelling- was only weakly correlated with language development. The effect of to-way conversations was almost 6 times greater than the effect of merely listening to adults talk.

And TV?

When researchers controlled for the amount of time that kids spent in conversation, the effect of television on children was neither positive nor negative.

Babies can learn from on line video chat but the live chat verses the recorded chat proved to be much more conducive to speech development, in a group of toddlers (24 – 30 months). The live chat adult responded appropriately to the children’s comments, questions, or facial expressions while the recorded chat could not respond to the children. After these sessions the toddlers were tested to see if they’d learned an unfamiliar word that the adult had used. Only the kids who’d engaged in real live conversations picked up the new vocabulary.

So what’s the bottom line?

We should be concerned about the effects of television on children who are learning to talk. But the research on language acquisition doesn’t tell us that television is the direct cause of leaning delays.

The more useful message is that babies benefit from genuine, back-and-forth conversation. Perhaps parents should worry a bit less about TV time and more about time spent in meaningful conversation with their kids.