In the Language Development Lab at the University of Warwick we study how and when children's first language – their mother tongue - develops.
Specifically, we're interested in finding out how and when children learn to put words together to make sentences. By studying their ability to understand and say different types of sentences at different ages, we can learn more about the mysterious process of language development!
Most of our studies are carried out with toddlers and pre-schoolers (2 – 5 year olds), the age at which children start putting words together and rapidly build ever more complex and fascinating sentences. At the moment we do two types of study to look at this: looking-while-listening and sentence repetition. Click on the links to find out more about these types of study.
All of our studies are made possible by the generous participation of parents and children. If you might be interested in participating in our research, please read on to find out more.
The Langauge Development Lab is part of the Warwick Research with Kids (Wa.R.Ks.) Group. You can also join us on Facebook to follow what we're doing or share our research with your friends and family!
A visit to the lab will often take up to an hour but the study itself will only last 10-15 minutes.
When you first arrive, we will spend some time in the reception area to allow your child time to settle in whilst playing with our toys or doing some colouring. We will explain more about what the study you are participating in is about, answer any questions you have and give you some paperwork to complete.
When you and your child are ready we will go into the study room to complete the experiment; you will stay with your child at all times. We make our studies fun to take part in but you or your child are free to stop at any time.
Afterwards, we will give you some more information about what we hope to find out and you will have the opportunity to ask any more questions you may have. Your child will get a certificate to mark their participation in our science project and will be able to choose a book to take home - our way of saying thanks. We will also reimburse your parking costs.
We're always delighted to hear from families who are interested in participating in our research. If you have a child aged betweeen 2 and 5 and would like to find out more or sign up for a study, please send an email with the following information or any questions to: ldlab at warwick dot ac dot uk
- Your name and preferred contact details (email or telephone number)
- Your child's name and age
- The languages your family speaks at home.
Alternatively, you can sign up by providing your family and contact details here and we will get in touch with you to make arrangements to participate.
Our lab is situated on the University of Warwick main campus (CV4 7AL), in room H0.92A - you can reach us by bus or drive and park nearby, full directions will be given when we arrange a visit.
We use a repetition method called priming to examine what types of sentences children can say: we take it in turns to describe some pictures and see whether the way the experimenter describes her pictures 'primes' children to repeat her sentence type to describe their own pictures. We vary the primes and see which ones the children repeat.
We do this in a game of Snap to make it even more fun! We take in turns to turn over our picture cards, describe them and look for matching pairs.
When people repeat sentences, it tells us that they have learnt and stored a mental representation of that sentence so we can use this method to discover what types of sentence children have acquired.
Children tend to understand even more than they can say so to find out more about what's going on inside their heads, we also study their comprehension of sentences.
In this type of study, children look at pictures whilst listening to sentences. We use an eye-tracker to measure what part of the picture they look at as they're listening to get an idea of the interpretation of the language they are making.
Finding out what children can understand gives us another insight into the language they have acquired, long before we hear them use it out loud.
Did you know that other researchers at the University of Warwick carry out studies with young children? For example, the Communication Development lab also carries out research that your family may be able to participate in.
These labs are part of the Warwick Research with Kids (Wa.R.Ks) Group - a team of researchers with interests in developmental psychology who have pooled their resources together to create the Wa.R.ks group. Our team have obtained approval from the University’s Ethical Committee and all of our team members have cleared an enhanced DBS check.
Now ... and at 3 years of age ...
I have been interested in language ever since I was a child who actually enjoyed learning French! These days, in between studying other children's language development, I spend my time enjoying what my 6-year-old son is saying to me and marvelling at his own language development.
I have always enjoyed engaging with children and love that I get to work with them as part of my role as a post-doctoral researcher. I am fascinated by just how much children learn from their environment and how quickly they develop, especially with regards to language.
Sophie studied for a Psychological Research Masters at Warwick, specialising in language processing, and carried out her first placement in the Language Development Lab. She is now a PhD student at Birmingham University
Priya worked with us as a research assistant running and transcribing lots of sentence repetition studies! She is now a PhD student at Lancaster University
Joining the lab
If you are interested in pursuing postgraduate or postdoctoral research, please see the Language and Learning group page for more information, or email: K dot Messenger at warwick dot ac dot uk