A recently published New York Times article, Language Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, points to new research showing that the Achievement Gap starts even younger than previously thought– a language gap develops in children as young as 18 months of age. The research done by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, demonstrated notable differences in the abilities of children of that age to identify pictures of simple words, such as “dog” or “ball.” Children of wealthier families were able to identify these words much more quickly than children from low-income homes– and by age 2, the difference in number of words known had grown to 30%.
This research reinforces and provides further insight into the conclusions drawn by a similar study of almost 20 years ago, that found a marked difference in vocabulary in children of high vs. low-income households at age 3.
This research has important policy implications, and will hopefully lead to an increased emphasis on early childhood education and support for programs that promote early literacy. Literacy experts are quick to point out that the increased emphasis should not be on vocabulary and rote memorization; instead, “[they] emphasize the importance of natural conversations with children, asking questions while reading books, and helping children identify words during playtime.”
Both studies highlight the importance of parental conversations with children; parents play a critical role in helping children to build vocabulary, comprehension, and the ability to read and write.
So how can parents have a maximum impact on their children’s language development? Amy Shapiro and Laurie Gross have written a number of blog posts here on the MLS website about the best ways to build your child’s vocabulary, citing the earlier studies done on this topic.
In Building A Strong Vocabulary they provide tips for how to incorporate a rich and varied vocabulary into a child’s daily routine, from thinking out loud around a child, to reading aloud. Check out How Big Is Your Child’s Vocabulary? for more resources and information on the subject of early language development.