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Early Language


(links to source documents are in the postings below)

1. New! "A Million Word Gap" for Children Not Read to At Home - Ohio State University
2. Early Language Gaps: Sources and Solutions - Meredith L. Rowe, et al.
3. Importance of Early Vocabulary for Literacy Achievement in High-Poverty Schools - Research Gate
4. Socioeconomic Status and Language Processing and Vocabulary at 18 Months - NCBI
5. Language Experience in the Second Year of Life - American Academy of Pediatrics
6. ​Early Language and Literacy Development - Urban Child Institute 
7. Early Language and Literacy Development - Zero to Three
8. Vocabulary: Needed if more children are to read well - Research Gate
9. Bridging the 30 Million Word Gap - Bridging the Word Gap Research Network
10. Literacy and Language Development by Type of Early Childhood Education - John Hopkins University 
11. Talk to Me, Baby - Georgia's Early Language Initiative 
12. How Babies’ Brilliant ‘Onboard Computers’ Sort Language From Sound Soup - Early Learning Nation 

"A “Million Word Gap" for Children

Who Aren't Read to at Home - Ohio State University

March 2019

Objective: In the United States, there are numerous ongoing efforts to remedy the Word Gap: massive differences in heard vocabulary for poor versus advantaged children during the first 5 years of life. One potentially important resource for vocabulary exposure is children's book reading sessions, which are more lexically diverse than standard caregiver-child conversations and have demonstrated significant correlational and causal influences on children's vocabulary development. Yet, nationally representative data suggest that around 25% of caregivers never read with their children.

Method: This study uses data from 60 commonly read children's books to estimate the number of words that children are exposed to during book reading sessions. We estimated the total cumulative word exposure for children who are read to at varying frequencies corresponding to nationally representative benchmarks across the first 5 years of life.

Results: Parents who read 1 picture book with their children every day provide their children with exposure to an estimated 78,000 words each a year. Cumulatively, over the 5 years before kindergarten entry, we estimate that children from literacy-rich homes hear a cumulative 1.4 million more words during storybook reading than children who are never read to.

Conclusion: Home-based shared book reading represents an important resource for closing the Word Gap.

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Early Language Gaps – Sources and Solutions

Note:  This document is being used with the permission of Meredith L. Rowe

By the time American children enter kindergarten, there is a well-established and pervasive gap between the average oral language skills of children from higher versus lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. This SES-related language gap is of great concern, as it persists throughout the school years creating disparities in academic and occupational success. There is increasing scientific consensus that intervening early to prevent the gap from developing is a more promising approach than intervening later to remediate the gap. To effectively plan policies and programs that will address the language gap, we need to understand its sources and consequences. The current report summarizes the literature in this area with a focus on the following issues:

  • Caregiver input in the home is a significant source of the gap – Language acquisition

      depends on the amount and nature of language exposure. A seminal study by Betty            Hart and Todd Risley (1995) found that children from low-income homes were                      exposed to an average of thirty million words fewer than children from higher-SES               homes during the early childhood years. Further research in this area confirms that            variation in the quantity and quality of communicative input that parents direct to                  children explains a substantial portion of the SES-related differences in children’s                early oral language skills.

  • Oral language skills are highly predictive of later literacy and school success - Decades of research has established a close relation between children’s oral language skills including vocabulary, syntax, phonological awareness and narrative ability and their later literacy acquisition and school success more generally. Children who start kindergarten with better oral language skills develop better literacy skills and show greater learning across the school years in a wide range of subjects. Skills beget skills in language and literacy development.

  • The gap is particularly large for language minority children from low-income homes – Many children from low-income homes are children of immigrant parents. These children with one or two parents who are native speakers of a language other English will not have had the same quantity or quality of English exposure as children from monolingual homes by the time they enter school. We need to provide means for these children to be exposed to English, while strengthening and preserving their heritage language skills.

  • Working with parents is an effective way to prevent the language gap – Parent-focused

       interventions are shown to have stronger effects on early child outcomes than                     interventions without a parent component. Studies of small-scale interventions find             that working with parents can result in an increase in parent talk to children. Further           research is necessary, specifically longitudinal randomized controlled trials, to                     establish the pervasiveness of effects on parent input and to examine the extent to             which the language gap can be prevented through this approach.

  • Need high-quality preschool environments for all children from low-SES homes- Research shows that children from low-SES homes have less access to high-quality preschool environments. Research also shows that teacher input can benefit the language skills of children from monolingual English-speaking and language minority homes. Thus, increasing the availability of high-quality preschool for all children should help close the language gap.

With significant investments in parent-focused early interventions targeting language use in the home and significant investments in making high-quality preschool programs available to all, researchers, practitioners and policy makers can make a significant contribution to reducing SES-related disparities in language skills. These approaches will not only benefit parents and individual children, but will improve the quality of the nation’s workforce for future generations.

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Importance of Early Vocabulary for
Literacy Achievement in High-Poverty Schools
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Research Gate Early Vocabulary.PNG

"Although research documents a key contribution of print skills to early literacy, vocabulary and other language skills also provide an important foundation. Focusing on a sample of several hundred low-income children in 16 urban schools that were implementing literacy interventions, 1st-grade predictors of literacy development were traced over time.

Beginning-of-1st-grade letter-word identification and word attack skills were the strongest predictors of reading comprehension at the end of 1st grade. However, vocabulary was the best predictor of reading comprehension at the end of 2nd and 3rd grades.


The predictive power of early print-related and phonemic-awareness skills diminished over time, yet vocabulary scores remained an important predictor. Results support an early emphasis on developing meaning skills to prepare low-income children for success in literacy."

Hemphill, L. and T. Tivnan (2008). "The Importance of Early Vocabulary for Literacy Achievement in High-Poverty Schools." Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR) 13(4): 426-451.

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Socioeconomic Status and Language Processing and Vocabulary
at 18 Months of Age
SES Language and Vocabulary at 18 months
Differences in socioeconomic status (SES) are strongly associated with variation in language outcomes. By the time they enter kindergarten, children from disadvantaged backgrounds differ substantially from their more advantaged peers in verbal and other cognitive abilities (Ramey & Ramey, 2004), disparities that are predictive of later academic success or failure (Lee & Burkum, 2002). In adults as well, SES differences in language proficiency are robust (Pakulak & Neville, 2010), reflecting the cumulative influence of a wide range of endogenous and environmental factors over a lifetime.
Another study found that 65% of low-SES preschoolers in Head Start programs had clinically significant language delays (Nelson, Welsh, Vance Trup, & Greenberg, 2011). This research revealed a systematic relation between degree of language delay and other weaknesses in academic and socio-emotional skills that were well established by 4 years of age. Socioeconomic gradients in language proficiency are also found within populations living in extreme poverty (Fernald, L., Weber, Galasso, & Ratsifandrihamanana, 2011).
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Language Experience in the Second Year of Life and Language Outcomes in Late Childhood


Objectives: Quantity of talk and interaction in the home during early childhood is correlated with socioeconomic status (SES) and can be used to predict early language and cognitive outcomes. We tested the effectiveness of automated early language environment estimates for children 2 to 36 months old to predict cognitive and language skills 10 years later and examined effects for specific developmental age periods.

Results: Conversational turn counts at 18 to 24 months of age accounted for 14% to 27% of the variance in IQ, verbal comprehension, and receptive and/or expressive vocabulary scores 10 years later after controlling for SES. Adult word counts between 18 and 24 months were correlated with language outcomes but were considerably weakened after controlling for SES.

Conclusions: These data support the hypothesis that early talk and interaction, particularly during the relatively narrow developmental window of 18 to 24 months of age, can be used to predict school-age language and cognitive outcomes. With these findings, we underscore the need for effective early intervention programs that support parents in creating an optimal early language learning environment in the home.

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Urban Child Institute

Early Language and Literacy Development 

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Early Language and Literacy Urban Child.
"Generally, a baby’s first spoken words occur at about one year, although comprehension begins several months earlier. At first, vocabulary growth is slow, but between 18 months and three years most children experience a vocabulary explosion, after which growth levels off until about the first grade. Because of the importance of this early stage of learning, your home is your baby’s first classroom, and you are the teacher."
Research shows that the amount and quality of speech that parents use with their child are among the strongest influences on his language skills, especially before age three. Reading books, telling stories, and describing daily events to your child provide a language-rich environment, but language development is a two-way process: The amount of verbal interaction with your child is as important as the amount of language you use. 
Zero to Three
Early Language and Literacy Development 
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By age 3, trends in the amount of talk, vocabulary growth, and style of interaction are well established and suggest widening gaps.

Positive early language and literacy development can give children a window to the world, helping to ensure that each child can seize his or her potential for future success. During the first 3 years of life, the brain undergoes its most dramatic development and children acquire the ability to think, speak, learn, and reason. When this early development is not nurtured, the brain’s architecture is affected and young children begin to fall behind.

Many low-income children arrive at school already behind in communication and language, a disadvantage that only persists over time. Parents and early childhood professionals play a critical role in the development of a child’s early literacy skills. By supporting them in this role, we reap significant dividends throughout a child’s entire scholastic career.

Vocabulary and Reading - Effective Strategies for Vocabulary Instruction
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Vocabulary and Reading Research Gate.PNG

Abstract:  Vocabulary has long been recognized as a strong determinant of reading success. Despite the importance of vocabulary knowledge, very little information is available about effective strategies for vocabulary instruction in elementary grades and there is a paucity of data on the relative merits of the different programs that are designed to promote vocabulary growth in elementary children. Available information indicates that, until they reach about grade three, children’s vocabulary knowledge is largely determined by informal factors such as parental interaction and other incidental sources such as the TV. In this article, I will address the following topics:

(a) individual differences in vocabulary acquisition,

(b) the amount of vocabulary needed for successful learning,

(c) the predictable sequence of vocabulary acquisition,

(d) the need for direct instruction for vocabulary growth, and

(e) promising methods for promoting vocabulary knowledge.

(PDF) Vocabulary: Needed if more children are to read well. Available from: [accessed Nov 26 2018].

Bridging the Word Gap National Research Agenda

Too many children from low-income families enter school with a serious learning disadvantage that emerges in their earliest years—substantially smaller vocabularies than their more advantaged peers. This disparity in child vocabulary size between groups is often traced to low exposure to talk in children’s home and child care environments. This “word gap” in exposure that many children growing up in poverty experience, translates to a deficit in vocabulary growth that increases over time, and leads to disparities in academic achievement during their school years and later in lower earnings and family stability in adulthood.


What is the Word Gap and Why is it Important?

In 1995, Hart and Risley reported a significant disparity between poor and advantaged children: a 30 million word gap at age 4 in the cumulative number of words addressed to these two groups. This finding was important because it reflected a difference not only in the quantity of words heard by children in these two groups, but also in the quality of language children heard by adults in their environments. Research has shown that this disparity in early childhood too often leads to an ever-widening gap in the school years in language and literacy skills (e.g., Walker, Greenwood, Hart & Carta, 1994), and ultimately much higher rates of school failure resulting in later social and economic costs that may be lifelong (Aram & Hall, 1989; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). These direct consequences are too often a reality for the 1 out of 5 children who are growing up today in poverty (Child Trends, 2014). However, not all children in poverty experience this fate and considerable knowledge is available that should allow us to reduce the gap.

The period of development between birth to 3 years represents a unique time during which interactions with adults can have either a substantial positive or negative impact on child outcomes. When interactions with parents or other caregivers are responsive, positive and frequent, they can facilitate vocabulary development; conversely, caregiving with relatively limited exposure to opportunities for positive interactions may have a deleterious effect on children’s vocabulary development (Hart & Risley, 1995; Hoff, 2003; Pan, Rowe, Singer & Snow, 2005). Thus, a critical premise for language-promoting interventions to reduce the word gap is the importance of increasing the rate and quality of language children receive in order to enhance their optimal development.

Using the expertise of BWGRN advisory board and leadership, an iterative process was used to develop and validate 16 research topics to be included in the web-based survey. The following intervention research topics were included in the survey:

  • Developing new strategies to help parents and other family members talk and interact with their young children

  • Developing new practices that early childhood teachers and child care providers could use to foster young children’s language development

  • Determining the effectiveness of existing strategies for changing adult behavior that promotes children’s language development

  • Learning which language interventions or strategies work best for specific groups of children or for use in specific situations or settings Identifying factors that might influence how well language interventions are implemented (For example, determining whether a language intervention is implemented more accurately after in-person training than after video-based training).  

  • Identifying ways in which families’ home language and culture should be incorporated into language interventions to increase their effectiveness and sustainability

Risk Factors and Interventions

Identifying risk factors (such as depression, stress, substance abuse, domestic violence) that influence caregivers’ engagement in language intervention and the ways in which interventions should be individualized to address these risk factors.

  • Identifying strengths families demonstrate that help them overcome challenges and stay engaged in interventions designed to support their child’s language development

  • Soliciting the opinions of parents, caregivers, educators, and others to determine the usefulness and practicality of language interventions to increase the likelihood that they will routinely be used.

  • Identifying new strategies that community- or neighborhood-based organizations can employ to work with groups of parents and caregivers in learning about ways to promote children’s language

  • Developing new ways that cities and communities can get the message out about ways in which parents, caregivers and early educators can foster young children’s language development

  • Identifying the most effective messaging strategies or interventions for reaching parents, child care providers, and other caregivers about talking and interacting with their children

  • Developing new ways to measure how much and how well parents talk and interact with their children

  • Developing and testing new techniques for analyzing growth in child language and communication skills

  • Developing analytic techniques that can determine whether community wide bridging the word gap efforts are working

  • Identifying basic language development processes that inform the design of new language interventions

  • Identifying basic language development processes that inform the design of new language interventions

Word Gap Bridging The.PNG
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Literacy and Language Development by
Type of Early Childhood Education - John Hopkins University 
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Early Language by Type of Instruction.JP
This systematic review of research on early childhood programs seeks to identify effective approaches capable of improving literacy and language outcomes for preschoolers. It applies consistent standards to determine the strength of evidence supporting a variety of approaches, which fell into two main categories: comprehensive approaches, which include phonemic awareness, phonics, and other skills along with child-initiated activities, and developmental-constructivist approaches that focus on child-initiated activities with little direct teaching of early literacy skills.
Inclusion criteria included use of randomized or matched control groups, evidence of initial equality, a minimum study duration of 12 weeks, and valid measures of literacy and language. Thirty-two studies evaluating 22 programs found that comprehensive early childhood programs that have a balance of skill-focused and child-initiated activities programs had significant evidence of positive literacy and language outcomes at the end of preschool and on kindergarten follow-up measures. Effects were smaller and not statistically significant for developmental-constructivist programs.



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Talk With Me Baby is a partnership of six lead organizations that are committed to ensuring that every newborn in Georgia receives essential language nutrition and has the opportunity to reach their full potential. The lead partners are: the Georgia Department of Public Health and Department of Education, Emory University’s School of Nursing and Department of Pediatrics, the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Atlanta Speech School’s Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, and Get Georgia Reading - Georgia’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading. As leaders in the field of health, education, and policy, these partners understand the impact that abundant “language nutrition” has on early brain development and how it sets the stage for success in school and the workplace which in turn affects health and well-being
This coalition is focusing on two large-scale work forces of trusted professionals that already serve most parents and babies – nurses and WIC nutritionists who see 99 and 50 percent of all new and expectant parents in Georgia, respectively. Talk With Me Baby is transforming parents and caregivers into conversational partners with their infants to provide the early language exposure that will support critical brain development paving the way for reading proficiency by the end of third grade, high school graduation, and a successful and healthy life.
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Early Brain and Language Development in the First Year
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How Babies’ Brilliant ‘Onboard Computers’ Sort Language From Sound Soup
By K.C. Compton
In Research Lab
on October 3, 2019
"Thanks to the University of Washington I-LAB’s magnetoencephalography (MEG) brain-imaging machine, a one-of-a-kind mechanical tour de force, researchers have been able to scan babies’ brains in a way that is safe, noninvasive and silent to pick up with millimeter accuracy the magnetic fields that respond as a baby is listening and learning. It is the first machine in the world able to record babies’ brain imaging as they are learning, providing what Kuhl calls a “tsunami of data” about what’s going on in their brains."
"Babies start out as “citizens of the world,” Kuhl says, able to distinguish all the sounds associated with human language from background noise no matter what country or what language they encounter."
  • At six to eight months, the brain scans of babies throughout the world light up equally in response to all human language sounds.
  • About two months later, an incredible shift occurs: babies begin to ignite only to the languages around them to the exclusion of other languages. If the language in the baby’s environment is Japanese, for example, their brain scans will show no response to English Rs and Ls. But if the language in their world is English, multiple areas of their brains will light up in response to the abundance of Rs and Ls they hear.
  • By 10 months, she says, a trained ear can hear that Chinese babies are babbling differently from the French babies who are babbling differently from the American infants.
Babies’ brains are not automatons though, Kuhl says, and this rich learning only happens when the input comes from social interaction with other human beings.
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