Over decades, neuroscientists have created a well-defined map of the brain’s “language network,” or the regions of the brain that are specialized for processing language. Found primarily in the left hemisphere, this network includes regions within Broca’s area, as well as in other parts of the frontal and temporal lobes. However, the vast majority of those mapping studies have been done in English speakers as they listened to or read English texts. In this study, neuroscientists performed brain-imaging studies of speakers of 45 different languages. The results show that the speakers’ language networks appear to be essentially the same as those of native English speakers. The work ays the groundwork for future studies of linguistic elements that would be difficult or impossible to study in English speakers because English doesn’t have those features.
An investigation across 45 languages and 12 language families reveals a universal language network
Malik-Moraleda, S., Ayyash, D., Gallée, J. et al. An investigation across 45 languages and 12 language families reveals a universal language network. Nature Neuroscience 25, 1014–1019 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41593-022-01114-5
Beyond the 30-Million-Word Gap: Children’s Conversational Exposure Is Associated With Language-Related Brain Function
Rachel R. Romeo, Julia A. Leonard, Sydney T. Robinson, Martin R. West, Allyson P. Mackey, Meredith L. Rowe, John D. E. Gabrieli. Beyond the 30-Million-Word Gap: Children’s Conversational Exposure Is Associated With Language-Related Brain Function. Psychological Science, February 14, 2018 https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617742725
This study found that young 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds who engaged in more conversation at home had more brain activity and verbal aptitude while they were listening to a story and processing language. The hypothesis is that back-and-forth conversation may rewire the brain and cause it to grow — a hypothesis that will be tested in a future study. In the study, the benefits of conversation were just as strong for low-income children as they were for high-income children. Children who experienced high amounts of conversation scored 12 percent higher on standardized language assessments.
Child and Parenting Outcomes After 1 Year of Educare
Yazejian, N., Bryant, D. M., Hans, S., Horm, D., St. Clair, L., File, N. and Burchinal, M. (February 8, 2017), Child and Parenting Outcomes After 1 Year of Educare. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12688
Educare is a birth to age 5 early education program designed to reduce the achievement gap between children from low-income families and their more economically advantaged peers through high-quality center-based programming and strong school–family partnerships. This study randomly assigned 239 children (< 19 months) from low-income families to Educare or a business-as-usual control group. Assessments tracked children 1 year after randomization. Results revealed significant differences favoring treatment group children on auditory and expressive language skills, parent-reported problem behaviors, and positive parent–child interactions. Effect sizes were in the modest to medium range. No effects were evident for observer-rated child behaviors or parent-rated social competence. The overall results add to the evidence that intervening early can set low-income children on more positive developmental courses.
Early home learning environment predicts children’s 5th grade academic skills
Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Rufan Luo, Karen E. McFadden, Eileen T. Bandel & Claire Vallotton. Early home learning environment predicts children’s 5th grade academic skills. Applied Developmental Science (August 2017) http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10888691.2017.1345634
Researchers from New York University studied more than 2,200 families enrolled in the Early Head Start Research Evaluation Project. They followed children from birth through 5th grade to determine the impact of early home-learning environments on later academic success. All of the children in the study came from low-income, ethnically diverse families. The researchers found that children whose parents engaged them in meaningful conversations and provided them with books and toys designed to increase learning were much more likely to develop early cognitive skills that led to later academic success. Children with a father in the home, adult parents versus teenage parents, and more-educated parents tended to have better environments for early learning.These findings were true across all ethnic/racial groups studied.
Bringing Literacy Home: An Evaluation of the Every Child Ready to Read Program
Susan B. Neuman, Naomi Moland, and Donna Celano. Bringing Literacy Home: An Evaluation of the Every Child Ready to Read Program (November, 2017). Chicago: Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Public Library Association (PLA)
This study revealed that libraries are taking a proactive approach toward engaging parents and caregivers supporting the early literacy development of their children, and the Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) @ your library Program is an effective tool to ensure libraries’ success. Currently more than 6,000 libraries have invested in the ECRR Toolkit, which is used to implement ECRR in the library. ECRR is based on two core concepts: reading begins at birth, and parents are a child’s first and best teacher. The researchers observed significantly greater engagement of parents and caregivers in the libraries that used the ECRR program: these libraries offered more opportunities for parents and children to interact, more parents-only workshops, and more diverse program offerings.
Fathers' Language Input During Shared Book Activities: Links to Children's Kindergarten Achievement
Baker, C. E., Vernon-Feagans, L., & the Family Life Project Investigators. (2015) Fathers' language input during shared book activities: Links to children's kindergarten achievement. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 36, 53-59.
How much fathers talk to young children has a direct positive effect on their kindergarten performance. This study used data from the Family Life Project to examine predictive relations between fathers' and mothers' language input during a wordless picture book task in the home just before kindergarten entry and children's letter — word identification, picture vocabulary, and applied problems scores at the end of kindergarten. Analysis revealed that mothers' talk ("mean length of utterance") predicted children's applied problems scores. More importantly, fathers' mean length of utterance predicted children's vocabulary and applied problems scores above and beyond mothers' language. Findings highlight the unique contribution of fathers to children's early academic achievement. Implications for future research, practice, and policy are discussed.
Oral Narrative Skills: Explaining the Language-Emergent Literacy Link by Race/Ethnicity and SES
Gardner-Neblett, N., & Iruka, I. U. (2015). Oral narrative skills: Explaining the language-emergent literacy link by race/ethnicity and SES. Developmental Psychology, 51, 889-904.
This study uses the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to explore how language at age 2 is associated with narrative skills at age 4 and emergent literacy outcomes at age 5 for a nationally representative sample of children. This study is the first to demonstrate the connection between African American preschoolers’ oral storytelling abilities and the development of their early reading skills. Previous research suggests that African American children are skilled in telling complex narratives of many different types, which may provide clues to the new study’s findings. Oral story telling has been an important part of the histories of many peoples—and an especially rich aspect of the black culture across the African diaspora. The findings suggest the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on storytelling skills to help young African American children with their early reading development.
24-Month-Old Children With Larger Oral Vocabularies Display Greater Academic and Behavioral Functioning at Kindergarten Entry
Morgan, P. L., Farkas, G., Hillemeier, M. M., Hammer, C. S. and Maczuga, S. (2015), 24-Month-Old Children With Larger Oral Vocabularies Display Greater Academic and Behavioral Functioning at Kindergarten Entry. Child Development, 86: 1351–1370. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12398
Data were analyzed from a population-based, longitudinal sample of 8,650 U.S. children to (a) identify factors associated with or predictive of oral vocabulary size at 24 months of age and (b) evaluate whether oral vocabulary size is uniquely predictive of academic and behavioral functioning at kindergarten entry. Children from higher socioeconomic status households, females, and those experiencing higher quality parenting had larger oral vocabularies. Children born with very low birth weight or from households where the mother had health problems had smaller oral vocabularies. Even after extensive covariate adjustment, 24-month-old children with larger oral vocabularies displayed greater reading and mathematics achievement, increased behavioral self-regulation, and fewer externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors at kindergarten entry.
Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication
Researchers gave families three different kinds of toys to play with: books, traditional toys like stacking blocks and a shape sorter, and electronic toys. Results indicated that play with electronic toys is associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with play with books or traditional toys. To promote early language development, play with electronic toys should be discouraged. Traditional toys may be a valuable alternative for parent-infant play time if book reading is not a preferred activity. Blocks and puzzles stimulated more conversation than the electronic toys, and books outscored them all.
Early-adolescents’ reading comprehension and the stability of the middle school classroom-language environment
Gámez, P. B., & Lesaux, N. K. (2015). Early-adolescents’ reading comprehension and the stability of the middle school classroom-language environment. Developmental Psychology, 51(4), 447–458. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038868
This study examined teachers’ language use across the school year in 6th grade urban middle-school classrooms (n = 24) and investigated the influence of this classroom-based linguistic input on the reading comprehension skills of the students (n = 851; 599 language minority learners and 252 English-only) in the participating classrooms. Analysis of speech transcripts revealed substantial variability in teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary and total amount of talk and that individual teacher’s language use was consistent across the school year. Analyses showed that when controlling for students’ reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge at the start of the year, teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary was significantly related to students’ reading comprehension outcomes, as was the time spent on vocabulary instruction. These findings suggest that the middle school classroom language environment plays a significant role in the reading comprehension of adolescent learners.
The Magic of Words
Susan B. Neuman and Tanya S. Wright (Summer 2014) American Educator, Vol. 38, No. 2, American Federation of Teachers.
From the beginning of schooling, children from various socioeconomic groups differ greatly in their vocabulary knowledge; those from high-income families tend to know many more words than those from low-income ones. Research shows that certain practices for teaching vocabulary — an important building block for learning — such as making connections among words and repeatedly exposing students to content-related words, can accelerate young children's oral vocabulary development, regardless of family income.
Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight. Research-Based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old
Lerner, C.; Barr, R. (2014) Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight. Research-Based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old Zero to Three: Washington, D.C.
This resource—developed in partnership with leading researchers in the field of media and young children — describes what is known about the effect of screen media on young
children’s learning and development. Rich, interactive experiences between parent and child are the most beneficial for babies and toddlers. The report warns that many of the the "2-D" experiences provided by TV, tablets, and smartphones don't provide the kind of social interaction and real-world learning that proves especially beneficial to infants and toddlers — unless parents are engaged in that activity.
The Joy and Power of Reading: A Summary of Research and Expert Opinion
Bridges, L. (2014) The Joy and Power of Reading: A Summary of Research and Expert Opinion. New York: Scholastic.
This summary of research and expert opinion highlights the importance of reading volume, stamina and independent reading and how that builds comprehension, background knowledge, vocabulary and fluency skills. The report also discusses the value of reader choice and variety in developing motivation and confidence; guided reading and interactive read alouds in schools; and reading aloud plus talk at home.
Effects of Reading to Infants and Toddlers on Their Early Language Development
Dunst, Carl J.; Simkus, Andrew; Hamby, Deborah W. (2012). Effects of Reading to Infants and Toddlers on Their Early Language Development. CELLreviews 5(4), Asheville, NC: Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute.
The effects of reading to infants and toddlers were examined in a meta-analysis of six intervention studies including 408 participants. Results indicated that interventions were effective in promoting the children's expressive and receptive language. The benefits of the interventions increased the earlier the interventions were started and the longer they were implemented. Implications of the findings for research and practice are described.
Children's Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy
Dunst, C, Simkus, A, Hamby, D. (2012). Children's Story Retelling as a Literacy and Language Enhancement Strategy. CELLreviews 5(4). Asheville, NC: Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute, Center for Early Literacy Learning.
The effects of children's story retelling on early literacy and language development was examined in a meta-analysis of 11 studies including 687 toddlers and preschoolers. Results indicated that children's story retelling influenced both story-related comprehension and expressive vocabulary as well as nonstory-related receptive language and early literacy development. Findings also showed that the use of the characteristics that experts consider the important features of retelling practices was associated with positive child outcomes. Implications for practice are described.
Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary
Weisleder, A. & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to children matters: Early language experience strengthens processing and builds vocabulary. Psychological Science, November 2013 24: 2143-2152.
In this study, researchers explored how the amount of speech directed to infants in Spanish-speaking families low in socioeconomic status influenced the development of children’s skill in real-time language processing and vocabulary learning. Results showed that children who had experienced more child-directed speech were more efficient at processing language. The analyses revealed a cascade of effects — those toddlers who heard more child-directed talk became faster and more reliable in interpreting speech, and it was their superior skill in processing language that then increased their success in vocabulary learning. An important finding was that even within a low-SES group there were substantial differences among parents in verbal engagement with their children and in children's language outcomes.
SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months
Fernald, A., Marchman, V. A. and Weisleder, A. (2013), SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Developmental Science, 16: 234–248.
This research revealed both similarities and striking differences in early language proficiency among infants from a broad range of advantaged and disadvantaged families. English-learning infants were followed longitudinally from 18 to 24 months, using real-time measures of spoken language processing. The first goal was to track developmental changes in processing efficiency in relation to vocabulary learning in this diverse sample. The second goal was to examine differences in these crucial aspects of early language development in relation to family socioeconomic status (SES). The most important findings were that significant disparities in vocabulary and language processing efficiency were already evident at 18 months between infants from higher- and lower-SES families, and by 24 months there was a 6-month gap between SES groups in processing skills critical to language development.
Trajectories of the Home Learning Environment Across the First 5 Years: Associations With Children's Vocabulary and Literacy Skills at Prekindergarten
Rodriguez, Eileen; Tamis-LeMonda, Catherine S. (2011) Trajectories of the Home Learning Environment Across the First 5 Years: Associations With Children's Vocabulary and Literacy Skills at Prekindergarten. Child Development 82(4).
A study that looked at the home environments of more than 1,850 children from households at or below the federal poverty line showed that factors such as levels of shared reading, exposure to frequent and varied adult speech, and access to children's books had an impact on school readiness skills. "As a parent, it is never too early to engage your child in learning," said Amber Story, a social psychologist and deputy director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, which funded the study. "This research suggests that the degree to which parents read and talk to their infant; point and label objects in the environment; and provide engaging books and toys when their child is only 15 months old can have long-lasting effects on the infant's language skills years later."
Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel
National Center for Family Literacy. (2009). Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
The National Early Literacy Panel looked at published research concerning children's early literacy skills and reports on which early skills or abilities could properly be said to be the precursors of later literacy achievement.
A Language Screening Protocol for Use With Young African American Children in Urban Settings
Washington, J.A., Craig, H.K. A Language Screening Protocol for Use With Young African American Children in Urban Settings. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology Vol 13, Issue 4, November 2004. https://doi.org/10.1044/1058-0360(2004/033)
Language screenings represent an important tool for early identification of language impairments in young children between 3 and 5 years of age. This investigation examined the utility of a well-established set of assessment measures for screening young African American children. One hundred and ninety-six children participated in the screening. Based upon the outcomes of the screening, 25 children who failed and a random sample of 56 children who passed were administered a larger language and cognitive assessment battery. Sensitivity and specificity of the screening were determined to be high. The number of different words, the Kaufman Nonverbal Scale, and nonword repetition accounted for a significant amount of the variance in performance. The screening is brief, valid, and culturally fair for use with preschool- and kindergarten-aged African American children living in urban settings.
Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children
Hart, B. and Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Brookes Publishing Company
The landmark longitudinal study of parent-child talk in families. The researchers recorded one full hour of every word spoken at home between parent and child in 42 families over a three year period, with children from seven months to 36 months of age. Follow-up studies by Hart and Risley of those same children at age nine showed that there was a very tight link between the academic success of a child and the number of words the child's parents spoke to the child to age three. See summary ›
Ways With Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms
Heath, S.B. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life and work in communities and classrooms. Cambridge University Press.
This book is a classic study of children learning to use language at home and at school in two communities only a few miles apart in the southeastern United States. 'Roadville' is a white working-class community of families steeped for generations in the life of textile mills; 'Trackton' is a black working-class community whose older generations grew up farming the land but whose current members work in the mills. In tracing the children's language development the author shows the deep cultural differences between the two communities, whose ways with words differ as strikingly from each other as either does from the pattern of the townspeople, the mainstream blacks and whites who hold power in the schools and workplaces of the region. Employing the combined skills of ethnographer, social historian, and teacher, the author raises fundamental questions about the nature of language development, the effects of literacy on oral language habits, and the sources of communication problems in schools and workplaces.