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Toddlers Hear Their Own Words Differently, Says Study

Hemera/Thinkstock(COPENHAGEN, Denmark) -- Ever wonder why toddlers just can’t seem to get the pronunciation of some words just right?  Science may now have an answer.

People subconsciously monitor their voices to ensure the sound they are producing is the one that is intended.  If it is different, we are able to change that tone, but new research found that toddlers do not monitor their voices in the same way.

“Surprisingly, 2-year-olds do not monitor their auditory feedback like adults do, suggesting they are using a different strategy to control speech production,” lead author Ewen MacDonald of the Technical University of Denmark told ABC News.

MacDonald said monitoring one’s voice is similar to musicians playing music.  For example, violinists adjust their fingers to bring a note that is out of tune, in tune.

In the study, published in the journal Cell Biology, a group of adults, 4-year-olds, and 2-year-olds said the word “bed” repeatedly while simultaneously hearing the word “bad” through a set of headphones.  Everyone was able to adjust their speech to continue to say the word “bed,” except for the youngest age group.

The findings are surprising because infants can detect small changes in the pronunciation of familiar words in their native language, MacDonald said.  By the time American children reach age 2, they have an average of 300 words in their vocabulary.

One reason for the findings may be due to the way children communicate with their caregivers, researchers noted.

“One possibility is that the 2-year-olds may rely on the person they are talking to instead of monitoring their own voice,” said MacDonald.  “If you look at interactions between young toddlers learning to speak and their caregivers, you will often hear the caregiver repeating or reflecting back what the child has just said. It may be this interaction that is helping children judge their accuracy in producing speech.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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