Child Study Centre

Understanding how children learn to talk



Here at the Child Study Centre we are fascinated by how children learn to talk.

How do they go from early gestures and babbling to being able to string sentences together and hold a conversation? What are the steps they encounter along the way? Our research tries to answer some of these questions!

Most of our research is conducted by running observational studies with children, either at the Centre or in nurseries and schools. We also use other techniques, such as eye tracking, to help us learn about what children understand before they are able to talk.

We are grateful for the generous help from families, nurseries and schools in the local community who volunteer to participate in our studies. If you have a child aged between 0-5 years you can fill in a quick online form to sign up to take part.



What we do

When humans communicate with each other using language we use a highly complex set of skills and knowledge.

Learning to talk appears to be an enormous challenge yet most children manage it quickly and easily, steadily piecing together sounds, meanings, and rules over their first few years.

Our research aims to answer questions about how children learn to talk. We are interested in everything from how children learn their first words through to how they learn to communicate effectively by combining words in meaningful sentences.

We use a number of methods to investigate children’s language development. Sometimes we use puppets, toys or cartoons to tell stories and check children’s understanding. Other times we might try to encourage children to play and talk to see what words, phrases, and types of sentences they use.

For younger children and babies we sometimes use an eye tracker, which is a special camera that shows us exactly where infants look when shown images, objects, or videos. By studying what babies choose to look at, and for how long, we can start to piece together what they understand about the world around them and how they learn from it.



Volunteering at the Centre

Find out how you can get involved by volunteering to participate in one of our studies.

If you would like to join the volunteer list, you should complete the online registration form.

Alternatively, you can call 0161 275 2444 or email Mickie Glover to register.

It’s never too early to add your child! Any child from 0-5 years can join the database. Please pass on our details to anyone else you know who may be interested.

If you join the volunteer list you are not, at this stage, committing to take part in a study. You are simply agreeing to be contacted about future studies. If we contact you to notify you about a suitable study, you are under no obligation to take part.

If you decide that you no longer want to be on the waiting list, you can email us at stating that you want to be removed from the database.

More about our studies

What's involved in a typical visit?

If you have registered with us and your child is the right age for one of our studies, we will email or write you, describing our study. If you are happy to take part in it, we will arrange a convenient time for your visit.

When you and your child arrive at the Child Study Centre, a friendly researcher will welcome you and offer you a drink. We will explain the study to you again and will answer any questions you might have. We will also give you a consent form to sign, saying that you are happy for your child to participate.

If for any reason your child decides against participating, you are free to withdraw them at any time. Once everyone is comfortable we will move to a nearby room to start the study. You will be with your child at all times.

Normally, your child will sit on a chair or on your lap. After the study we will answer any questions you might have. All our studies are designed to be interesting and fun and should take no more than half an hour.

You can also bring along siblings – we have plenty of toys and drawing materials to keep them entertained during your visit, as well as baby changing facilities and spare nappies (just in case!)

Research ethics

All of our studies are approved by the ethics committee at the University. Information about your child is confidential and all data is kept anonymous.

Personal details will be kept securely offline and only for the purpose stated. You can ask for your details to be removed from our database at any time.

Our studies aren’t designed to assess the performance of individual children. However, once a study has finished you will get feedback on the overall findings of the research.

Schools and nurseries

A lot of the studies are run with the help of local schools and nurseries. If you know a school or nursery that might like to participate please ask them to get in touch.


The Centre is located in the Coupland 1 building on Coupland Street, on the main University of Manchester campus.

For those using public transport, we are based just off Oxford Road, which is well served by bus services. See a list of bus services going to the University campus.

For those travelling by car there is a car park just a short walk from our building (See map below). Full directions will be sent out prior to a visit.


Getting in touch

For enquiries or to register:

Mickie Glover

Tel: +44 (0)161 275 2444