The Impact of Television on Language Development

In the age of digital media, television has a presence in households around the globe. Television is divisive, with considerable arguments about whether it can help kids to learn or whether it stunts their natural language abilities and other cognitive functions. So, is tv helpful for language development, comprehension, and other cognitive functions – or not?  Let’s explore how television influences language development and its implications for children.

Early Learning and Language Acquisition

For young children, television can offer a fun and engaging introduction to vocabulary, mathematics, auditory comprehension, and other skills. Some educational tv programs are specifically designed to support language development, such as Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer. These programs can help to introduce foundational language skills to preschoolers. Through engaging narratives, catchy songs, and interactive activities, these programs may help young learners with opportunities to expand their vocabulary, improve comprehension, and develop basic language structures.

According to a 2005 study, children who watched educational programs such as Arthur, Dora the Explorer, and Blues Clues had a wider range of vocabulary by age of 30 months old.

Watching TV with a grownup can make the experience even more enriching for children. Their grownup could ask them questions to help them hone their attention, memory, processing speed, and comprehension skills.


For example, ask the child questions such as: 

  • Who is this character? 
  • What is the character doing?
  • Where are they?


These questions can get the child in the habit of paying attention to details and following narrative structures.

Research suggests that well-designed educational television programs can enhance language acquisition in young children by providing repeated exposure to language input in contextually rich environments. Moreover, programs that incorporate elements of active participation, such as responding to prompts or completing tasks, can further reinforce language learning and retention.

The Pitfalls of TV

However, don’t think that this means you should just sit your child down in front of the tv for hours! While there isn’t any strong evidence that tv causes developmental delays, there are valid reasons to be concerned about tv consumption, especially for kids. A study showed a correlation between habitually watching non-educational television before age 3, and issues with attention skills by age 5. 

Additionally, children’s play time was found to be more frequently interrupted when there was tv playing in the background. This could lead to less exploring during play time, less discoveries, and less using their own imagination! While educational tv can be helpful for children, it should probably still be somewhat limited so that children have ample time and opportunities to use their brains, invent, create, discover, and have fun.

How to Best Help Children Develop Language Skills

There is no substitution for old-fashioned conversation! While educational tv can be enriching in moderation, children should be exposed to plenty of direct one-on-one conversation. Research suggests that this is by far the most effective way to help their speech development. 

An interesting study introduced Mandarin Chinese conversation to American babies who had not previously heard Mandarin. The language was introduced in two different ways to two different groups of babies – one group was spoken to directly by adults, while the other group watched television in Mandarin. After 12 sessions, the babies who had been spoken to directly in Mandarin were able to distinguish certain speech sounds in the language. On the other hand, the babies who had only been introduced to the language through television were not able to distinguish these sounds.


While television can be a valuable resource for language learning, it’s essential to approach its use mindfully and critically. Not all television content is created equal, and not all programs are suitable for young children who are learning language skills for the first time. Parents and educators should exercise discretion in selecting age-appropriate, educational programming that aligns with learning goals and values.

Moreover, passive consumption of television alone is unlikely to result in language proficiency gains. To maximize the benefits of television for language learning, viewers should actively engage with content, supplementing their viewing experience with interactive activities, language practice, and meaningful interaction with native speakers.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

Related Content in Misc

Recent Articles

HappyNeuron Pro Logo

Are you a therapist looking for Cognitive Stimulation tools for your patients?

Check out HappyNeuron Pro’s FREE Worksheets !