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Multi-million grant to study child speech

Babies are taking part in research at the Lancaster University Psychology Department

Babies are taking part in research at the Lancaster University Psychology Department

A new centre focussing on speech and language learning in children will be run by a Lancashire university.

The facility, announced by the Government this week, will be based at Lancaster University as well as Manchester and Liverpool and represents one of the largest grants ever awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Experts from the universities will share the grant to carry out research which will transform understanding of how children learn to communicate.

The £9 million cash injection over five years will see a new ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development (LuCiD) set up in the North West working with experts in the USA, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and Poland.

The centre will provide crucial information needed to design effective interventions in child healthcare, communicative development and early years’ education.

It will also develop new technological products for parents, including a Babytalk app, which will allow parents and health professionals to record a child’s vocabulary and monitor their progress.

At Lancaster University, researchers will look at the role of environment on language learning in children.

They will use cutting-edge methods – including developmental neuroscience, eye-tracking, and computational approaches to help explain the behavioural observations of children acquiring language and learning to talk.

Lancaster researchers will focus on how children learn to use all the sources of information around them to learn the meanings of words, the role of words in sentences and the subtle interplay of meaning in conversations.

Lancaster University, Professor Padraic Monaghan, said: “Learning to use language to communicate is hugely important for society. Failure to develop language and communication skills at the right age is a major predictor of educational and social inequality in later life.

“To tackle this problem, we need to know the answers to a number of questions which LuCiD will be able to explore.”

There will be five streams of research in the UK and abroad. Centre programme leaders will also develop new multi-method approaches and create new technology products for parents, researchers, healthcare and education professionals.

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