Television and Language Development in the Early Years: a Review of the Literature

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Television and language development in the early years:
a review of the literature

March 2004

Contents
Preface
Executive Summary
1

Introduction

2

Review findings

2.1 The relationship between television and language development in the early years 2.1.1 Children’s television
Attention and comprehension
Vocabulary development
Expressive language development
Grammar development
Pre-literacy skills: phonological awareness, narrative and storytelling, knowledge of literacy
2.1.2 General audience television
2.1.3 Conclusions
2.2 The characteristics of television programmes that stimulate or hinder language development in their target audience
2.2.1 Main factors influencing viewing experience
2.2.2 Nature of supervision and interaction by carers during viewing 2.2.3 Location of the television in children’s bedrooms where there is likely to be no parental supervision
2.2.4 The different benefits/implications between viewing new content on television and the repetition of familiar favourites on a video
2.2.5 Conclusions
2.3 The quantity of television that enhances or detracts from language development 2.3.1 Children’s consumption of television
2.3.2 Children’s television and quantity of viewing
2.3.3 General audience programming and quantity of viewing
2.3.4 Conclusions
2.4 The kinds of activities in the home that maximise benefits and minimise the adverse effects of television
2.4.1 Providing an optimal viewing experience
2.4.2 Regulating the quantity of television viewing
3

Conclusion

4

References

2

Preface
In 2003, the National Literacy Trust commissioned Dr Robin Close to conduct a literature review of published research in order to understand more fully the relationship between television viewing in the early years and language and literacy development.

A priority of the National Literacy Trust is to understand the relationship between language development in children from birth to age three and later literacy development. As television is a central feature of modern western culture, the Trust wished to understand the effects of television viewing on children’s language development and wider literacy. The literature review was intended to provide informational support for the Trust’s Talk To Your Baby campaign. The review, however, was to be based on an objective assessment of available research evidence and not on any prior agenda of the organisation.

The review is written in the format of a report rather than an academic review to provide useful information for professionals concerned with understanding issues surrounding television use by infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers in a critical period of their language development. It is clear from the study that more collaborative research between early language specialists and media specialists is warranted to understand more fully the implications of the television medium and the amount of time young children spend viewing television for language acquisition. It is hoped that the review can serve as a starting point for such work.

The review concentrated on international publications over the last 30 years. Most of the material consulted, however, covered the period from the 1980s to February 2004. The review looked mainly at literature focusing on the birth-to-five age range, although priority was given to the birth-to-three age group to correspond with the Trust’s focus. While the review investigated research on the relationship between television and language in the international community, priority was given to research in English-speaking countries and first language learners of English. As the Trust is mainly concerned with English literacy among English speakers, the review concentrated on this target group, although research on second language learners of English was not systematically excluded. Similarly, the absence of these other media does not mean that the researcher perceives them to be unimportant...
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