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Language Acquisition in Young Children

By Deborah Williams

Several studies have shown that young children from disadvantaged homes are more likely to enter school with a tremendous vocabulary gap when compared to their peers from more advantaged backgrounds.  Some experts estimate that the gap can mean about 30 million fewer words than their more advantaged counterparts.

Writing for Education Week, Sarah D. Sparks supports this finding by summarizing several studies, but she also explains that a little-regarded factor in the poorer language acquisition for these children is the quality of conversation that parents have with their children.  These children tend to enter school far behind their peers and are unlikely to catch up in subsequent school years.  Sparks reports on one part of a significant study, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children, that it’s important to do more than just bombard young children with words.  Associate professor in early language and communication and the director of the Children’s Project in Kansas City, Kansas stated, “We don’t want to just distill it down to a numbers game, because … the important message to take away is not the poor versus wealthy families, but the opportunities children have to interact with rich language.”

Jill Gilkerson, director of LENA Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado explains, “Conversational turns are vastly more important than the number of words a child is exposed to.”  Parents should work to engage their young ones in back and forth exchanges and knock off watches less “short directives” because this does not create turns in conversation.

View this example of positive parent-child interaction from the article on the Education Week article:

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