London - Parents who stumble over their words need not worry - it may even help their children learn to talk.
Sentences peppered with “ums” and “ers” can be easier for children to follow than those uttered with complete fluency, researchers have found. The situations create natural pauses which allow the child to absorb what has been said and signal that there is a new or difficult word coming requiring special attention, they say.
The study by cognitive scientists at the University of Rochester's baby lab suggests that toddlers use their parents' stumbles to help them learn language more efficiently.
They cite the example of a parent walking with a toddler through a zoo who points to a rhinoceros whilst searching for the word. “Look at the, er, um, rhinoceros,” the parent says. The fumbling helps alert the child that he is about to be taught something new so should pay attention, say the researchers.
As children are hearing many words that are new to them they need time to work out what they mean, so hesitations can provide them with the time to absorb what they are being told. With fluent speech they are apt to miss what comes next because they are still trying to work out what has already been said.