Time to talk


Talking to toddlers helps shape their developing brain, according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

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 developing brains, looking in particular at a substance called myelin.They found that two-and-a-half-year-olds who heard more speech in their everyday environment had more myelin in language-related areas of their brains.

Lead researcher Prof John Spencer, from UEA’s School of Psychology, says: ‘We know that children’s brains develop very rapidly in the first two years of life, with brain volume at about 80 per cent that of an adult brain by the age of two.

‘Myelin is made up of protein and fatty substances and forms an insulating layer around nerves in the brain. It makes brain signals more efficient,’ he adds. ‘We wanted to know more about how this substance is involved with early brain development and particularly whether talking to young children boosts myelin production.

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

‘The message to caregivers is clear - talk to your baby, your toddler, your child. Not only are they listening, but your language input is literally shaping their brains.’

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