How can the sense of touch help children learn language?

Children can use all their senses to help them learn language. Touch for example is a sense that children rely on from their very first days, while their other senses like sight and hearing are still developing.

Touch can help children learn words. Some of the first words children learn are words that are accompanied by touch. For example, if a caregiver wants to talk or sign about a nose, they may touch their child’s nose and say or sign the word ‘nose’. This is one of the reasons body parts are often the first words a child learns.

Touch can also help children learn other parts of language. Before children learn the meaning of words, they need to figure out where one word begins and another ends. Imagine listening to or seeing a language you do not know. It can be almost impossible to know where each word ends and begins, without some practice! Touch can be used as a tool for children to pick out words in sentences. For example, a caregiver can lightly tap a child’s hand each time they say ‘star’ while singing the song ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’. It can be easier for a child to notice that ‘star’ is a word, if each time they hear or see it in the song there is a tap to help them focus their attention.

Learning language is a multi-sensorial adventure. Mix and match different senses in a way that is most natural for you!

The scientific sources for our comic:

Seidl, A., Tincoff, R., Baker, C., & Cristia, A. (2015). Why the body comes first: Effects of experimenter touch on infants’ word finding. Developmental Science, 18(1), 155-164.

Abu-Zhaya, R., Seidl, A., & Cristia, A. (2017). Multimodal infant-directed communication: How caregivers combine tactile and linguistic cues. Journal of Child Language, 44(5), 1088-1116.

Tanaka, Y., Kanakogi, Y., & Myowa, M. (2021). Social touch in mother–infant interaction affects infants’ subsequent social engagement and object exploration. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 8(1), 1-11.