What we've been up to
We have been running studies for 3 different age groups:
Is that a word? Finding words in Italian.
(8-9 month olds)
Can babies guess what they will hear next when others are talking?
(8-9 month olds)
Where's the dog? Speed of Processing study.
(23-25 month olds)
The team have also had a great time attending lots of child-friendly classes over the last few months. We've learnt sign language at Sing and Sign Liverpool, said 'Hola' to the Spanish Tots and Bebes, posed the downward dog at Mitchy Titch children's yoga classes and we've loved seeing what this week's theme will be at Baby and Toddler Sense classes in South Liverpool just to name a few!
We spoke to families about the work we do at the Language Lab and had lots of little scientists signing up to get involved with our studies. If you are a child-friendly group and would like to work with us in the future then please get in touch!
Liverpool Language Lab in the Community
As we have tried to rebuild our database following COVID, our researchers have been out and about, meeting all of you and your little scientists! It has been such a privilege to interact with all the families in the community, speaking about how COVID has affected everyone differently, but with hope that it is all slowly getting better. Anna, Heather, Jess, and Audred have re-learnt the alphabet in Teeny Tiny Theatre sessions at Big You Little You, found toy treasure at West Kirby URC and Beautiful New Beginnings playgroups, made superhero masks at crafts sessions in the Liverpool Cathedral, and more. We not only recommend going to these sessions, but we’re also looking forward to seeing you there again!
In the lead-up to Christmas, we have been lucky enough to have had visits from two local sixth form English Language classes.
Members from Calderstones School and Archbishop Blanch School, looking to further their understanding about child development, spent an afternoon in the Language Lab.
The team walked them through the stages of child language development, from simple sounds to complex grammar, and how we test this. Then the class was introduced to the eye-tracker, as well as a range of standardised tests used in the lab.
Overall, it was a great experience helping students grasp in practice what they had only read about in their textbooks and classrooms.
EEG testing comes to the Liverpool Language Lab!
Our research has been back in full swing this summer - especially now that we have our new EEG experiment to give us more exciting insights on how your babies learn language!
Our EEG test is an easy and safe technique used to detect and measure electrical brain activity. It is used widely on both adults and children but our research is focusing on whether prediction, the ability to guess what's coming next, plays a role in your child's language learning process.
The EEG cap is soaked in a warm solution and then popped on your baby's head whilst they watch some familiar faces like Pingu and Mickey Mouse! Whilst watching these videos your child will listen to made-up words and complex sounds, with the EEG system recording how they respond to these. This data will help our researchers see how your child reacts to different stimuli - whether this be learned words or brand new ones.
Liverpool Language Lab Reopens!
Families are welcomed back to the lab.
In March 2020 we made the sad but necessary decision to pause our research. It's been a long 18 months but finally we are able to reopen and welcome families back to the lab.
We have made some changes to the lab and follow COVID-19 safety guidelines so it's safe for everyone involved. These include enhanced researcher testing, appropriate PPE, and temperature checks.
Anna, one of our PhD students, was the first to resume her project and welcome back our baby scientists. She is running her new eye tracking study that is interested in how babies use words to help them remember objects. The study uses our eye-tracker, which is a really useful bit of equipment that allows us to see where a baby is looking and whether they can follow different objects and sounds. It gives us as researchers a window into their mind and for the baby, it's just like watching TV. It's great to be able to do this type of research again.
A visit from Calderstones Sixth Form
At the end of October, we were visited by a group of A-Level English Language students from Calderstones sixth form who were interested in learning more about children's language development and how we can study it. Dr. Samantha Durrant gave an interesting talk about some of the methods that we use in our studies, followed by the students having the opportunity to try out some of these methods themselves!
Here are some of the comments from the students who came to visit us:
"Really informative and increased my interest in this topic. It was good to see a real-life context to the study of CLA." -
"A worthwhile educational experience. Really authentic and nice to see the continuation of these studies at a higher level."
In November, we had some exciting visits to Tumble Tots, Teeny Tiny Theatre and Storyhouse just to name a few! Thank you to all of the groups who have let us come along to their sessions to talk to families about the Liverpool Language Lab and the studies that we run.
This month we've had we’ve had the pleasure of visiting lots of new baby classes to spread the word about the Language Lab and the research that we do. At the start of the month, we visited Rhythm Time Wirral who offer exciting multi-sensory classes for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. We also visited West Kirby United Reformed Church toddler group who have a fantastic space with lots of different activities for children. More recently, we went along to Sensory Seekers at Hug a Mug who run a weekly class for 0-2 year olds. Each week, the room has a new theme and last week the theme was wind and rain! Everyone who has ran these classes has been passionate about developing children’s language skills, and it’s been great to see how they have incorporated this into their sessions.
The Liverpool Language Lab in the community
Gatacre Village Fair
15th of September
The Liverpool Language Lab was delighted to have been invited to the Gatacre Village Fair which took place on Sunday the 15th of September from 11am-2pm. The fair was hosted by our friends at Hug a Mug and raised money for Gatacre Chapel’s chosen children’s charity, ‘Send a child to Hucklow’.
Our stall was ran by Beth and Heather who were playing lots of fun language games suitable for all ages. Each child was also be able to choose one of our books to take home with them. There was a number of stalls alongside us including face painting, a bouncy castle, and a meet and greet with Mr Tumble Liverpool.
The Liverpool Language Lab finish testing for some of their studies
We've had a really busy month at the Language Lab as we come to the end of some of our studies! Thank you to all of the families who have come in to take part over the summer holidays.
Judit and Beth have been running a bingo study for some of our older junior scientists aged 5-7. The study was
investigating how sentences produced by children are affected by the sentences they have just heard. The children took it in turns with Judit to describe some cartoon clips whilst filling up their bingo board. We've had great fun playing bingo with the children and hope to reveal the findings of this study very soon!
We've also nearly come to the end of our accent and grammar learning study with 16-18 month old children. For this study, we're interested in seeing which parts of speech children find useful when identifying words and how they respond to different accents. We have almost finished testing for this project and hope to analyse the findings overthe next couple of months!
The Language 0-5 team host their farewell party
We just wanted to say a big thank you to all of the wonderful families who have taken part in the Language 0-5 project over the last five years. We can't believe how fast the time has gone since we started the project!
To celebrate all of the hard work that the children have put into the project, we hosted a party with entertainment, face painting and lots of cake!
We also left a book for parents to write down their highlights of Language 0-5. We loved reading all of the comments about how much of an impact the project has had and we hope that the families enjoyed taking part just as much as we have!
Liverpool Language Lab's Dr Michelle Peter features in BBC Learning's Language and Literacy Campaign
BBC Learning has launched a 10 year campaign to halve the language gap among children aged under 5 across the UK. At the heart of their plan is encouraging parents to talk to their children from an early age, and Liverpool Language Lab's Dr Michelle Peter has been involved!
In a series of short films called, "Babies Discover...", Michelle provides practical advice and tips about the ways in which you can make talking to your baby fun!
Study shows that babies can pick out individual words from speech at only 3 days old!
Learning your native language is a lot more tricky than you may think, and the fact that children do this with no formal teaching of the rules that make up our language is amazing!
One of the many early skills necessary for learning language is the ability to identify individual words in speech. This isn't nearly as easy as it sounds because spoken speech doesn't contain the spaces or pauses present in written speech. In spoken speech, there aren't many obvious clues about where one word ends and another begins, so babies have the difficult task of figuring this out.
Fascinatingly, a new study by Liverpool Language Lab's Dr. Perrine Brusini and colleagues has found that, babies have the skills needed to do this from as early as three days old!
In the study, three-day old babies heard a continuous stream of four nonsense words for three and a half minutes during which time, a technique called Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, (in which a red light is shined into the brain), was used to measure which parts of the brain were active.
The researchers discovered two mechanisms that babies use to be successful at picking out the individual words: prosody (the rhythm of speech) and statistics (the likelihood with which sounds in words co-occur).
These results show just how receptive newborns are to language - a finding that is important for new parents who may not be aware of just how amazing babies are!
Liverpool Language Lab to feature in a BBC documentary about children's early development
In a 3-part documentary on BBC 2, called “Babies: Their Wonderful World”, researchers from around the world gather to look at the science and psychology behind children’s development over the first two years of life.
Watch as Liverpool Language Lab's Dr Michelle Peter runs language experiments (with very cute kids) to unpick what we know about how babies learn the tricky business of learning language.
The first of the three episodes airs on BBC 2 on Monday 26th November at 9pm - make sure to watch if you can!
Off on our travels to fabulous France!
Conference on Learning Language in Humans and in Machines
5th-6th July, Paris
In July, researchers Dr Michelle Peter, Dr Samantha Durrant, and Dr Rebecca Frost headed to Paris to show off some of the latest results from the Liverpool Language Lab.
This conference was unlike many others that have been attended by Liverpool Language Lab members - the focus wasn't only on language learning in humans, but also on how we can use artificial intelligence (or machine learning) to gain more insight into the cognitive processes involved in various aspects of language acquisition.
Michelle presented the findings from a task investigating the relationship between the speed of online processing and later vocabulary - a study that forms part of the longitudinal Language 0-5 Project (find out more about the project here). If you want to take a look at the poster that was presented, click here!
There were some really great talks - a highlight was a keynote given by Susan Goldin-Meadow who spoke about how the gestures developed by congenitally deaf individuals (who cannot learn the spoken language that surrounds them and who have not been exposed to sign language) take on many of the forms and functions of languages that have been handed down from generation to generation.
It wasn't all work of course - we managed to squeeze in some time to explore the sights that Paris had to offer!
Meet the Scientists - Language special event
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Saturday 16th June, 2018
We had a great time at the Walker Art Gallery chatting to all of you about language development! You really had some great questions and we were happy to answer them.
We also really enjoyed playing our language games with you and your little ones - we hope that we were able to give you a little insight into what is is that we do here at the Liverpool Language Lab.
Invite to Meet the Scientists
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
This event is a hands-on day for all of the family, and a fantastic opportunity for you to meet scientists from the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Lancaster who specialise in child language research.
There will be lots of language activities suitable for children of all ages--and plenty to do for adults too!
Come and find out how it is that children learn new words when a new word could refer to almost anything they can see. Or, why not play some mind-reading and perspective taking games with us? You could even see how we use state of the art eye- tracking equipment to measure exactly what babies look at and how they use this information to learn language.
We’re also very excited that there will be an area dedicated to the Language 0-5 Project. Not only will you be able to learn more about the different tasks that the children involved in this 5-year study have taken part in since it began in 2014, but you can also take a look what we've found out so far!
We’d love to see you there, so if you’ve nothing booked in your diary yet, please pay us a visit!
Story Starter Drop-in Day
Liverpool Central Library
Monday 26th June
The early stages of a child’s life are an exciting opportunity. With the right support, a child can reach for the stars. Sadly, far too many young children are starting primary school without the basic language and literacy skills to succeed.
Story Starters is a new, exciting charity programme which will change this and ensure young children have the skills, support, and confidence to enjoy the perfect first chapter in their lives. If you volunteer as a Story Starter, you’ll use stories, play and conversation to give a child the positive support they need to start school ready to read.
You’ll support three children aged 3-5 years' old on a one-to one basis, using play and stories to develop and enrich their use of language. You’ll need to commit to volunteering at a local nursery for one hour, twice a week during nursery hours.
You’ll receive professional training and support to ensure that you are best able to support young children and feel comfortable in a modern nursery setting.
Come to the Story Starter Drop-in on Monday 26th June between 11am and 1pm at Liverpool Central Library (4th Floor). There, you can meet the friendly Story Starters team to discover the difference you can make to a child’s life!
Check out our wonderful Language 0-5 families having a whale of a time at our Picnic in the Park!
A few weeks ago, the sun was kind to us and allowed us to have a lovely time at our summer picnic. The only sad thing is that we have to wait until next year to do it all again! Check out what we got up to...
Invite to Picnic in the Park
To celebrate the fact that it's summer (kind of!), and that the Language 0-5 families have been a part of the project for 18 months (and also because we really like cake), we'll be holding another Picnic in the Park this August.
Last year, lots of you turned up with picnic blankets, food, and children in hand, helping to make our picnic a truly wonderful event. It was so lovely to meet all of you, but also for you to meet each other. We know that it can probably feel like you and your little ones are just another participant in a massive study, but we assure you that you aren't!
The fact that each and every one of you regularly gives up your time to come in to the lab, be filmed, fill out many (many) questionnaires, and be generally amazing all in the name of science is very much appreciated. All of this makes what we are trying to achieve so very worth it!
Spotlight on research: There's a lot more to your baby's babbling than you may have previously
Before babies say their first words, they already know a lot about how language works. Research has shown that babies as young as 6 months understand words for some common objects, for example. Babies often use gestures to communicate what they want (e.g. pointing or reaching) and to tell us what they’re interested in (e.g. holding out objects). Babies also practice saying the sounds they’ll need to say their first words by babbling.
Researchers are interested in babble for various reasons. First of all, the sounds that babies babble with are also the sounds that will be in their first words. Secondly, starting to babble with more consonants actually changes the way that babies listen to words. Finally, babies who babble earlier tend to say their first words earlier, and also tend to have bigger vocabularies by the time they’re 18 months old.
Traditionally, to find out about babies’ babble, researchers have needed to record and transcribe what babies say. This is time-consuming for parents and researchers alike. It also takes specialist, high-quality recording equipment and researchers who have training in phonetics. Here in the Liverpool Language Lab, we have developed a questionnaire, the Babble Checklist, that asks parents about the sounds their baby babbles with, and how often they say these sounds. Hopefully, this will save everyone a lot of time! However, we first need to check that it works.
This summer, our intern Helen will be helping us to test our Babble Checklist. She will be recording and phonetically transcribing everything the babies who come into the lab say. Parents will also fill in the Babble Checklist. We’ll then be able to compare what the babies say in the lab with what their parents tell us they usually say at home. If the transcripts and the checklists match up, we’ll know that, in the future, we can simply ask parents what sounds their child is saying when they babble.
Bringing the latest in language research to Bradford - A Better Start, Bradford
In June, Caroline and Michelle spoke at the second A Better Start Learning and Development event.
Funded by Big Lottery Fund (who have invested £215m), A Better Start (ABS) is a programme designed to understand the effectiveness of interventions during early childhood. The project runs across five areas across England: Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend.
This year's event was held in Bradford and was a wonderful opportunity for experts in research, policy and practice in the field of speech and language to share their knowledge and ideas about how to promote a culture of talking to babies.
As much as we enjoyed presenting the latest in child language research to the ABS audience, we also learned a lot from the practitioners across the different sites - in particular, it was great to find out what language interventions are currently underway and how these interventions will be evaluated in the future.
The Language 0-5 Team spread the word Stateside!
The International Conference on Infant Studies, New Orleans
This conference gathers together researchers working on many different aspects of child development and is a great place to tell everyone about our work as well as getting lots of new ideas for studies we could do with your children as part of the project. These conferences are a really important part of Language 0-5's work; sharing what we are doing and learning about the work of others is necessary to piece together the puzzle of how children are developing language.
Amy talked about how the gestures children use and the sound they make when they babble link to their vocabulary development. Sam presented a poster about the data we collected when babies involved the Language 0-5 Project were 9 months old. Lots of people were interested in these studies and how they link to children’s language development.
It wasn’t all work though - we all managed to spend a bit of time exploring the city. The French Quarter was a particular highlight for us all; the balconies were decorated beautifully and there were some great places to eat. Amy and Caroline also managed to do a bit of alligator spotting (eek!).
Christmas time at the Liverpool Language Lab!
It's the most wonderful time of the year, and here at the Liverpool Language Lab, we are really enjoying seeing the Language 0-5 children coming in for their lab sessions in their festive attire!
Last week, 18-month old Iris came in to take part in a word learning study using eye-tracking technology. For language researchers, eye-tracking really is like a window into the mind - it's a great way to learn about what children's understanding of language is like before they reach an age at which they can reliably tell us! We all make eye movements - most of the time without even thinking about it. By tracking where, how long for, and how quickly children look at pictures on a screen whilst they hear different sentences, we can begin to build a picture of what young children's linguistic knowledge is like, as well as how this changes at they get older.
When Iris came in, she saw a pair of objects on a screen and at the same time heard a sentence that encouraged her to look at one of those objects. We were testing whether Iris would look longer at the picture that matched the sentence that she heard.
Sometimes the pair of objects that Iris saw were ones that were familiar to her (e.g., a car and a book), but at other times one (or both) of the objects were completely new to her and had a made-up name (e.g., a dax and a blickett). By pairing a familiar object with a completely novel object, we can see whether children are able to use their knowledge of familiar words (like car) to rule out that the novel name in the sentence, "Where's the dax? Can you see it?", must therefore refer to the unfamiliar object.
We use these types of studies to learn what types of skills children might be exploiting when they face the task of learning the names for new objects - something they are having to do a lot at the beginning of their language-learning journey!
Liverpool Language Lab in Boston!
This week, the Language 0-5 Project team and other members of LuCiD travelled all the way to the States to present the latest findings in child language research.
We attended the Boston University Conference on Language Development where we delivered talks and presented posters about the work that we are doing.
Michelle gave a talk about how children's ability to be primed (i.e., the tendency to copy the structure of a recently-encountered sentence) is linked to their vocabulary level.
Amy presented a poster based on a study from her PhD which looks at what young children know about passive sentences (e.g., Wendy was helped by Bob).
Sam presented a poster on a study that looked at whether children can distinguish between words pronounced in different regional accents.
Coralie and Ludo presented a poster on a study that encouraged French-English bilingual children to produce left dislocations - a particular type of sentence structure that is common in French but less so in English (e.g., The boy, he stole my apple).
Tomoko gave a talk about the types of errors that Japanese children make when using different types of verbs.
Congratulations to Sam on graduating this month!
This month, Language 0-5 Project researcher, Sam, celebrated completing her PhD. Although Sam officially completed her PhD in September 2014, she had to wait until this year to graduate from the University of Plymouth.
Summer fun at the Language 0-5 Picnic in the Park
A few weeks ago - with picnic blankets and tasty snacks at the ready - we spent a sunny afternoon in Sefton Park with some of our Language 0-5 families.
Surprisingly, the weather was good to us (it must have been all of that finger-crossing we were doing!) which made for a wonderful afternoon. It was lovely to see you all, and also to meet some of the members of your families that we don't usually get to see. We were so pleased to see everyone sharing stories, and to see the little ones making some new friends.
Congratulations to Michelle on graduating this month!
Our first article for Nursery World Magazine is available now!
Last week, Michelle officially celebrated the completion of her PhD at her graduation ceremony at the the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
Over the last 3 years, she has used a method called structural priming to look at what children's grammatical knowledge is like early on, and how it develops as they grow older.
She says, "To make it fun, the studies took the form of a bingo game. This involved me taking it in turns with the children to describe cartoon animations on a computer. Sometimes we would win counters to go on our respective bingo boards, but sometimes not. The first person to fill up their board with counters was the winner. This type of game is great because we can really control the type of sentence that the children hear and this helps us learn what type of language they will and will not produce. The kids are having to produce lots and lots of sentences which, otherwise, would be pretty boring. But, because it's in the guise of an interactive game - and because they always win (I secretly let them!), they don't get bored!".
Michelle's work has shown that although young children are able to represent certain types of sentences in an abstract way like adults can, the language that they produce is also determined by the way that they've heard certain verbs (e.g., action words like give and hug) being used. In other words, children's grammatical knowledge is sensitive to their language environment. The Language 0-5 team will be running a similar type of study when the children involved in the Language 0-5 Project are a little older, so sadly for Michelle, she'll have to get used to losing again!
Check out the first article in a series on language and communication written by Caroline and Michelle for Nursery World Magazine.
The article, Up to speed?, focuses on how a "language-rich" environment, both at home and in the nursery, is vital if a child is to progress easily through the many stages of early speech development.
If you'd like to read the full article, then click here!
Webinar-filming for Pearson Assessment and the
Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists
People often wonder exactly what goes on when we run child language studies here in our lab. Well, wonder no more!
This month, Pearson Assessment and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists asked us to film some short videos showing the different types of studies that we use to learn about children's language development.
As researchers, we use a variety of methods to look at how children's knowledge about language changes as they get older. Often, we use "describing games" because they can help us to learn the types of things that children say.
For example, young children tend to over-apply certain rules about language, and this leads to errors in their speech. A prime example of this is when they want to talk about events that have happened in the past.
You may have heard a young child say such things as "I drawed" instead of "I drew", and "he runned" instead of "he ran". This is because they know a general rule about adding "ed" to the end of regular verbs (like cook and wash), and mistakenly add -ed to irregular verbs that don't actually take this ending!
Games that involve children having to describe "what happened yesterday" can help us to understand when and how children learn to stop making these kinds of errors.
British-style Acorns Nursery Conference, Bucharest
The British-style Acorns Nursery (fondly referred to by staff simply as "Acorns") was set up 10 years ago by Romanian-born Valentina Secară. After struggling to find a nursery for her son that offered the educational principles of the British curriculum, Valentina decided to set up her own!
In May, Michelle flew over to Bucharest in Romania to speak at the British-style Acorns Nursery Conference. Along with early years adviser Dr Cathy Hamer, and parent support adviser for North Craven children's centre (North Yorkshire) Gill Osmond, she spoke to Romanian early years professionals about the importance of talking to your baby.
The conference was attended by early years professionals from nurseries all over Romania, all with one aim: to learn more about how best to support the language and communication skills of the children in their care.
Now with 80 children registered, Acorns is considered one of the best private nurseries in Romania. Children are taught exclusively in English, and are taught based on the requirements of the UK's Early Years Foundation Stage.
Wirral Tea and Cake morning, Neston Community Youth Centre
Our Wirral Tea and Cake morning on Monday 27th April was a fantastic opportunity for some of our families to get to know each other, and for them to meet the whole Language 0-5 team.
All of the families in the Language 0-5 Project are contributing so much of their time to help us to answer our questions about children's language development - we are so grateful to all of you. We hope that everyone was able to share with others their experience of being involved in the project and, of course, that you all enjoyed the cake!
Professor Caroline Rowland, team Lead on the Language 0-5 Project, talks at the
Talk to Your Baby Conference 2014, National Literacy Trust
Why do children learn so much more effectively from some early language activities than others? In order to answer this question, we need to know about uptake (which bits of language do children take in and analyse). And for this, we need to know how the brain’s language learning mechanisms work. In this talk, Professor Rowland will discuss some of the latest research on how different cognitive mechanisms within children’s brains work together to learn sounds, words and grammar from the input that they hear. She will discuss how the new ESRC Centre for Language and Communicative Development (LuCiD) proposes to tackle some of the most important unanswered questions.
Michelle Peter, researcher on the Language 0-5 Project, discusses why talking to your baby early on could help them do better at school
You might be surprised to learn that it's not just the amount of language that children hear during their early years that is linked to their language skills later on; the type of language that they hear matters too! Find out more in this article published via The Conversation.
Experts from the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Lancaster have been awarded £9m to improve understanding of how babies and young children learn to talk and communicate with others.