June 29, 2007 / 2:02 PM / 10 years ago

Teletubbies can't beat people in teaching first words

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Babies and toddlers are enchanted by the Teletubbies with their brightly colored outfits and bulging tummies but when it comes to learning new words and language skills humans are the best teachers.

Although Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are a big hit with the younger set, researchers from Wake Forest University in North Carolina have shown that babies learn their first words better from people than the popular television characters.

“With the tremendous success of programs such as ‘Teletubbies’ that target very young children, it has become important to understand what very young children are taking away from these programs,” Marina Krcmar, an associate professor of communication at the university, said in a statement.

“We would like to think it could work, that ‘Teletubbies’ and other programs can teach initial language skills. That is not true,” she added.

In a study reported in the journal Media Psychology, the researchers analyzed whether toddlers could learn new words better from the Teletubbies or an adult.

They found that children younger than 22 months old could not link an object to a new word when it was presented on the program but they were able to make the connection when an adult in the same room taught them the word.

“During the early stages of language acquisition, and for children who still have fewer than 50-word vocabularies, toddlers learn more from an adult speaker than they do from a program such as ‘Teletubbies,” Krcmar added.

Research has shown that children three years and older learn from television programs but it does not hold true for babies and toddlers.

“The idea that television can help teach young children their first words is a parent’s dream, but one not supported by this research,” Krcmar said.

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