Childhood ‘word gap’ can be combated early

In a study co-authored by northwestern psychology professor, Sandra Waxman and New York University Prof. Athena Vouloumanos; they argued that the “word gap” between lower income children and more affluent children, who hear more words during early childhood, can be combated at as early as two or three months of age.

 They emphasize in their article “Listen Up! Speech is for Thinking During Infancy” that parents should speak to their infants more.

“It’s not because (children) have low vocabularies that they fail to achieve later on,” Waxman said in a University news release. “That’s far too simple. The vocabulary of a child — raised in poverty or in plenty — is really an index of the larger context in which language participates.”

The “word gap” refers to the difference in the number of words lower income children and more affluent children hear during their early childhoods. A 2003 study found children from “professional” families will hear 30 million more words in their first three years than children from “welfare” families.

In their article, Waxman and Vouloumanos summarize new research that shows infants who listen to speech gain more than language skills. In the news release, Vouloumanos said listening to speech also “promotes the babies’ acquisition of the fundamental cognitive and social psychological capacities that form the foundation for subsequent learning.”

“These new results, culled from several different labs including our own, tell us that infants as young as 2 or 3 months of age not only love to listen to speech, but that they learn about fundamental cognitive and social relations better in the context of listening to speech than in any other context we’ve discovered yet,” Waxman said in the release.


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