Tina M. Grieco-Calub, tina_griecocalub@rush.edu
Rush University Medical Center
Rush NeuroBehavioral Center

Popular version of paper: 3aSC4
Presented Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022
182nd ASA Meeting in Denver, Colorado

One of the most important tasks for children during preschool and kindergarten is building vocabulary knowledge. This vocabulary is the foundation upon which later academic knowledge and reading skills are built. Children acquire new words through exposure to speech by other people including their parents, teachers, and friends. However, this exposure does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, these interactions often occur in situations where there are other competing sounds, including other people talking or environmental noise. Think back to a time when you tried to have a conversation with someone in a busy restaurant with multiple other conversations happening around you. It can be difficult to focus on the conversation of interest and ignore the other conversations in noisy settings.

Now, think about how a preschool- or kindergarten-aged child might navigate a similar situation, such as a noisy classroom. This child has less mature language and cognitive skills compared to you. Therefore, they have a harder time ignoring those irrelevant conversations to process what the teacher says. Also, children in classrooms must hear and understand the words they know and learn new words. Children who have a hard time ignoring the background noise can have a particularly hard time building essential vocabulary knowledge in classroom settings.

In this study, we are testing the extent to which background speech like what might occur in a preschool classroom influences word learning in preschool- and kindergarten-aged children. We are testing children’s ability to learn and remember unfamiliar words either in quiet and in a noise condition when two other children are talking in the background. In the noise condition, the volume of the teacher is slightly louder than the background talkers, like what a child would experience in a classroom. During the word learning task, children are first shown unfamiliar objects and are asked to repeat their names (e.g., This is a topin. You say topin; see attached movie clip). Children then receive training on the objects and their names. After training, children are asked to name each object. Children’s performance is quantified by how close their production of the object’s name is to the actual name. For example, a child might call the “topin” a “dobin”. Preliminary results suggest that children in quiet and in noise are fairly accurate at repeating the unfamiliar words:    they can focus on the teacher’s speech and repeat all the sounds of the word immediately regardless of condition. Children can also learn the words in both quiet and noise. However, children’s spoken productions of the words are less accurate when they are trained in noise than in quiet. These findings tentatively suggest that when there is background noise, children need more training to learn the precise sounds of words. We will be addressing this issue in future iterations of this study.

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