The Importance of Talking with Infants and Toddlers – Efforts to Bridge the Word Gap

Word Gaps…

  • A 2013 study at Stanford University by Dr. A. Fernald and colleagues showed that toddlers from low socio-economic backgrounds already have deficits in understanding familiar words at 18 months!
  • By the age of two, the gap has widened to no less than 6 months – a quarter of these children’s live time!!! Two-year-olds from low socio-economic backgrounds understand familiar words only as well as their 18-month-old peers from high socio-economic backgrounds. Gaps are also there in talking with the less advanced children saying overall many fewer words.

Likely the gap is not going to shrink but stay or even get larger which affects children’s lives, now and in the future. For a discussion of the political and educational implications of this early language gap, read the full article here.

If you’d like to watch how the language gap was discovered in Dr. Fernald’s lab, watch this short clip called ‘Tracking the Vocabulary Gap’ here.

Additional News

A 2014 article in the ECONOMIST, titled ‘In the beginning was the word‘ discusses the importance of talking to young children and exposing them to rich language from 0 to 3 years.

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science, April 2014: Researchers discuss the importance of talking with young children. Watch the video “Early language and the brain“.

  • Dr. Fernald discusses the discovery of the early language gap and its important implications.
  • Dr. Noble discusses research showing that the word gap is visible in children’s brains. The brains of children with rich language experiences have larger brain volume in the areas related to language.

A 2014 New York Times article, “Trying to Close a Knowledge Gap, Word by Word”discusses efforts to try closing the word gap across the country for children from less-advantaged homes. Watch the Clip “ A gadget to close the word gap”, which shows how parent-child conversations are recorded with a device called LENA, and later analyzed to give parents feedback on their talk.

A 2014 New York Times articleThe Power of Talking to Your Baby”, discusses attempts to close the word and achievement gap. The ‘simple’ solution offered is: TALKING with infants. Key science findings that support this idea are presented.

At the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Denver, June 2014: Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, announces to work with other organizations (Too Small to Fail, American Academic of Pediatrics, Reach out and Read, and others) to raise awareness among parents about the importance of early language learning and talking in young children.  Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics will for the FIRST time promote early literacy as an ‘essential’ component of the child well-visits. All, in an effort to close word gaps in infants and toddlers. Click here to read more.

A 2014 article by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)  “ The Word Gap: The Early Years Make the Difference” discusses the latest research at Stanford University showing a word gap at 18 months. It gives concrete advice how preschool teachers can improve their talk and interactions with young children.

October 2014: White House to announce $2 Million Study on Early Learning: Initiatives are taken to help close the word gap in children from low-income families, starting at birth. A joint effort by the administration, CGI, Too Small too Fail, Next Generation, and others. Read the full story.