Monday, June 24, 2013

Giving children non-verbal clues about words boosts vocabularies

The clues that parents give toddlers about words can make a big difference in how deep their vocabularies are when they enter school, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

By using words to reference objects in the visual environment, parents can help young children learn new words, according to the research.

It also explores the difficult-to-measure quality of non-verbal clues to word meaning during interactions between parents and children learning to speak.

For example, saying, "There goes the zebra" while visiting the zoo helps a child learn the word "zebra" faster than saying, "Let's go to see the zebra."

Differences in the quality of parents' non-verbal clues to toddlers (what children can see when their parents are talking) explain about a quarter (22 percent) of the differences in those same children's vocabularies when they enter kindergarten, researchers found.

The results are reported in the paper, "Quality of early parent input predicts child vocabulary three years later," published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Erica Cartmill
"Children's vocabularies vary greatly in size by the time they enter school," said lead author Erica Cartmill, a postdoctoral scholar at UChicago.

"Because preschool vocabulary is a major predictor of subsequent school success, this variability must be taken seriously and its sources understood."

Scholars have found that the number of words youngsters hear greatly influences their vocabularies.

Parents with higher socioeconomic status—those with higher income and more education—typically talk more to their children and accordingly boost their vocabularies, research has shown.

That advantage for higher-income families doesn't show up in the quality research, however.

"What was surprising in this study was that social economic status did not have an impact on quality.

Parents of lower social economic status were just as likely to provide high-quality experiences for their children as were parents of higher status," said co-author Susan Goldin-Meadow, the Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at UChicago.

More information: Quality of early parent input predicts child vocabulary 3 years later,

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