Put a man in front of a baby and, from a mixture of bare-faced fear and bemusement, he will devolve his language into a series of goo-goos and ga-gas within seconds. Some say baby talk helps children learn to speak, other feel that fully formed sentences is the way to go. The truth is we don't know too much about how babies learn to speak - but now, thanks to video games, we're getting a grip on exactly how children learn to speak.
To uncover how spoken sounds are decoded by the brain, the research team designed a video game narrated in deliberately distorted speech. The soundtrack (unintelligible babble in any language) was the only source of instruction for the 77 adult players in the study. After only two hours of play, the participants could reliably extract world-length sound categories from continuous alien sounds and apply that learning to advance through the game.
"Traditionally, when we study adult learning in the lab, it's nothing like how infants learn language," said Holt, professor of psychology at CMU and a specialist in auditory cognitive neuroscience. "This video game models for adults the challenge language learning poses to infants. This presents the opportunity to study learning in ways that are just not feasible with infants."
Lacerda, professor of phonetics and an expert in language acquisition, agrees that using video games is a promising new way to explore language learning.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to approximate the task facing infants by creating a setting where adults are forced to infer what the meaning of different sound elements might be, and to do it in a functional way."
The research has the potential to help better understand and effectively treat a number of conditions including dyslexia and improving second language learning.
Is there anything video games can't do?
Researchers Use Video Game to Crack the 'Language Code' [Game Politics]