The language environment of infants & toddlers in early childhood education settings

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SUSS Public Lecture Series 2022: 
Early Childhood Care and Education

The language environment of infants and toddlers in early childhood education settings and its value for learning

Children’s language development in the first three years of life is a key predictor of their subsequent academic achievement. This lecture introduces our ongoing research into the language environment that infants and toddlers experience in Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings and outlines the key factors that foster the development and use of language as a key tool for learning.

Understanding these factors can support policy makers and educators in their quest to provide very young children with the best education and care environments. 

We first present findings from a study that employed the Language Environment Analysis (LENA) technology to examine the differences in the language environment experienced by multilingual and monolingual infants (n=181, aged 12-21 months) in ECEC settings.

The study investigated whether infants’ multilingual status predicted adult word count, educator-infant conversational turns, and child vocalisations, and how these metrics interact with other infant, home and ECEC program characteristics. Using data from another recent study, we then discuss some of the main ways in which educators can encourage infants to use their developing language skills to demonstrate and advance their learning.

Finally, we turn our attention to the opportunities for learning afforded by naturally occurring toddler-educator conversations that use decontextualised talk, where ideas are expressed and shared without reference to the immediate physical context and activity. 



Professor Sheila Degotardi

Prof Sheila Degotardi

Sheila Degotardi is a Professor of early childhood education and the Director of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood Education (CRECE), Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University. Sheila specialises in infant-toddler pedagogies and learning in early childhood education centres. With a deep interest in relationship-based pedagogies, she investigates the nature of social interactions between children, their educators and peers, to consider how these interactions contribute towards very young children’s learning. 

Prof. Degotardi is currently the Principal Chief Investigator of two projects that investigate language interactions in infant-toddler early childhood classrooms. The first, “Language for Learning (MQ TaLK!)” (Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery 2018-2023) examines the features of infants' language environment that support or constrain the development of learning-oriented talk, building on the study “The language environment of infant-toddler early childhood rooms” (ARC Discovery 2014-2017). The second project, MQ Toddler TaLK is tracking the developmental trajectories of children’s learning-oriented talk from 2.5 to 3.5 years of age.

Sheila is also leading a Medical Research Futures Fund project to investigate how COVID19 health information has been communicated to and by early childhood centres and organisations. 



Dr Fiona Zheng

Dr Fiona Zheng

Fiona (Zhijun) Zheng is a Research Fellow specializing in multilingualism and infant/toddler language learning and development.

Her main areas of research focus on understanding young children’s language environments and multilingual education in early childhood. Currently she is working on the ARC Discovery project “Language for learning: Developing learning-oriented talk (MQ TaLK!)”  and investigating the key features of infants’ language experiences at home and early childhood education centres. She is also one of the investigators in MQ Toddler TaLK.



Dr Natalie Brand

Dr Natalie Brand

Natalie Brand is an early childhood teacher and a research fellow at Macquarie School of Education. Natalie’s interests include toddlers’ pedagogy and language development. Her recent PhD investigated the learning-focused dynamics of conversations between toddlers and their educators in early childhood settings.

At present, Natalie is working on the research project ‘MQ Toddler TaLK’, which is one of the first studies to explore how toddlers use their developing language skills to demonstrate and advance their learning.

The project will contribute to educators’ capacity to facilitate the development of young children’s learning-oriented language as an important precursor of academic language at school and beyond. 



Dr Emilia Djonov

Dr Emilia-Djonov

Emilia Djonov is a Senior Lecturer who specialises in language and literacy in early childhood, multiliteracies, multimodal and critical discourse analysis, social semiotics and educational linguistics. The focus on multimodality, or how language and other modes interact to create meaning, at the heart of her contributions to critical multimodal discourse studies and research on young children’s multimodal literacy development, language learning and engagement with digital technologies.

Emilia is one of the Chief Investigators on the multidisciplinary research projects Language for Learning – MQ TaLK and MQ Toddler TaLK. 

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