Here’s why some children find it hard to understand what strangers say

Washington: Kids with poor language skills find it difficult to understand and process what strangers say compared to their peers who have acquired a higher level of language skills, a recent study has found.
The study, published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, evaluated school-going children and found that children with high language skills – a better ability to understand and process language – were able to understand what was being said both by people they knew and were familiar with, as well as strangers who had a similar accent to people they were familiar with.
However, children with lower language skills understood what familiar speakers said, but found it challenging to understand speakers who they did not know, the researchers observed.
“These findings suggest that children who have lower language skills are able to understand speech from familiar speakers, as would be the case with a teacher or parent, but may have a harder time with new speakers, such as a substitute teacher or when interacting with other people in their day to day interactions,” said Susannah Levi, the study’s lead author.
Levi previously published research showing that when children are familiar with someone’s voice or accent, they can more accurately and quickly process what a person is saying – a concept known as ‘familiar talker advantage’.
With the concept ‘familiar talker advantage’, child listeners naturally store information about what they hear and the way words sound when spoken by people they know.
Each time a child is spoken to, they go back to this stored information to process and understand words that are spoken to them. This new research demonstrates that children with poorer language skills have a more difficult time retrieving and processing this information.
The current study included children with a range of language abilities who completed spoken word recognition tasks in which they heard words mixed with background noise and had to indicate what word they heard.
The tasks required children to identify words spoken by voices and accents they were familiar with as well as three unfamiliar voices.