MARCS BabyLab researcher Associate Professor Paola Escudero (pictured above) was recently interviewed by a number of Australian media outlets to provide expert commentary for a news story on how babies learn words.
The story, published on Channel 7 News, SBS TV, ABC PM, and ABC Online, focused on Associate Professor Escudero's recent published research, which found that Australian babies are more likely to understand Canadians than their own compatriots.
Associate Professor Escudero told the ABC that Australian babies sometimes struggle with a broad local accent and find it easier to comprehend someone from Canada.
"Many studies have shown that there is a bias towards native language, so children like their native language more, they prefer it," she told the ABC.
"We thought well if that's the case, then Australian babies should be able to learn words from Australian English much faster, much more easily without trouble."
"What we did is we tried to see whether children had more difficulties if they heard words spoken in one accent as opposed to another accent in English, because there's a lot of variability in the way we pronounce words."
"What we did is we tried to see whether children had more difficulties if they heard words spoken in one accent as opposed to another accent in English, because there's a lot of variability in the way we pronounce words" – MARCS BabyLab researcher Paola Escudero.
Paola and other researchers at MARCS BabyLab tested a new word on dozens of 15-month-old Australian babies, teaching babies to recognise a made-up word "deet" by playing them recordings of the sound and showing them picture cards to associate meaning with the word.
They then tested if the babies noticed the word had been changed to "dit" or "doot".
When the babies listened to the Australian speaker, they did not notice the vowel changes. They made better sense of the different words listening to a Canadian.
The study sheds light on why non-English-speaking migrants could find the Australian accent difficult to master, and BabyLab researcher Dr Karen Mulak said each accent poses different challenges for different listeners.
"It's really interesting how we think of English as one big language, but in fact each individual accent poses different challenges for different listeners and poses sometimes a challenge for infants learning their first language," she told the ABC.