Baby Talk In The Department Of Psychology

Professor Caroline Rowland and psychology student Katie Brewin from the School of Psychology are testing a new BabyTalk app this summer.  Together with Computer Science they have developed the BabyTalk app, which can be downloaded onto smart phones, allowing parents to record their child’s vocabulary and monitor their progress.

The app will provide parents with a permanent online record of their baby’s first words and gestures and allow health professionals such as health visitors and speech & language therapists to monitor the speech development of children at risk of language delay.

This is important because research has suggested that children who enter school with good language skills are more likely to have better chances in school, better chances of entering higher education and better economic success in adulthood. As a result of this, early years experts often use materials which are designed to help parents provide language-rich environments at home. However, it is hard to communicate effectively with parents, particularly low-income parents who do not regularly use early years services. It is also difficult to monitor language growth because children are too young to take part in clinic-based tests.

The BabyTalk app provides a solution to these problems. The app is easily accessible and it delivers information directly to the parents about how to enrich the home environment for language learning. It also solves the language monitoring problem, as each time their child learns a new word, parents can update the Communicative Development Inventory (CDI), which is a checklist of children’s words and gestures that parents fill in.

However, the app is not yet fit for purpose. Caroline and Katie, funded by a BSP Undergraduate Research Assistant Scheme, will be testing the app this summer in order to see whether it is measuring children’s language accurately and to ensure that results are stable over time.

They will be recruiting about 20 families to take part. Parents will complete the CDI on the new BabyTalk app and their children (12-20 months) will complete a standardised test (Preschool Language Scale 4-UK), which will seem just like a play session to the children as they will just be playing simple games in the child language lab.

Click here for more information about the BPS undergraduate research assistantship scheme.

Caroline Rowland is a Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Liverpool. Her research focuses on how children acquire language, with a particular interest in grammar and in assessing how the child’s environment promotes and shapes language growth. She is a series editor for the Trends in Language Acquisition (tiLAR) book series and an associate editor for the Journal of Child Language.

Katie Brewin is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Liverpool, with a particular interest in child language acquisition. When she graduates, she would like to either undertake a PhD or start a career in teaching.

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