University researchers helping adults understand children

Teacher and child

Researchers from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society took part in a hands-on event at Manchester museum, to give the public an insight into how children learn to talk.

The free event, ‘Kids say the funniest things’, was organised by The ESRC LuCiD Centre; a five-year, £9.4 million, research centre, spearheaded by the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster, that is dedicated to studying how children learn to communicate.

The event saw a first reveal of the BabyTalk app, an app for phones, tablets and computer that helps parents boost their children’s language development, monitor their progress and flag up any concerns to their GPs or health visitors.

Clever mistakes

There were also hands-on activities demonstrating how we study how children learn to talk, as well as storytelling sessions with members of Professor Rowland’s shared book reading project, and talks by researchers at the Centre, including Dr Ben Ambridge on the ‘clever mistakes children make when learning language’.

In the course of learning a language, children often say things that don’t sound quite right. These ‘clever mistakes’ are often a sign of progress in language learning and generally the best way to respond to them is just to enjoy them, rather than trying to correct your child. However, if a child carries on using them long after their friends have stopped, they can be a sign that a little bit of extra help from a speech and language therapist may be needed. These can include:

  • Sometimes leaving things out i.e. He want that (= He wants that)
  • Sometimes extending plurals i.e. Mouses (= Mice)
  • Sometimes extending past tense i.e. I goed to school yesterday (=I went to school yesterday)
  • Sometimes making up words i.e. Uncapture me (= Let me go)
  • Sometimes using words that don’t fit the sentence pattern i.e. Don’t giggle me (=make me giggle)

Incredible process

Helen Allwood from the LuCiD Centre said: “Learning to speak is an incredible process starting from the noises and expressions we make as babies up to learning the sometimes strange rules of English.

“Understanding this process is vital to helping to support children with language delay.”

Professor Rowland said: “The event was great fun and was a fantastic opportunity to present important and useful information  in a hands-on way . I talked to dozens of parents about how their children are learning language, and about what tips and tricks they can use to help their children develop.

“This is what the LuCiD Centre is all about. The more we understand about how language works, the more advice and information we can give parents about how to boost children’s development, and how to identify, and help, children who may be at risk of a language delay.”

For more information about the ESRC LuCiD Centre please visit:

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