Twenty years ago, the thirty million word gap emerged in the US as an education issue for children starting kindergarten with language disadvantage. New research however shows the word gap is not the number of words children hear, as first thought.
Conversational turns between a parent and child emerged as the key to language growth.
By age 3, a child’s IQ was more closely related to the number of words he had heard [from caregivers] than any other factor, including parents’ overall education or income level.
Dale Walker, researcher at the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project (Kansas City), notes:
It’s not just throwing words at children, but making sure they hear new concepts, things of interest to them, so their brains make those connections earlier.
Children make these learning connections in verbal interactions with caregivers before the age of three, with up to twenty conversational turns per hour documented by researchers. Accordingly ‘free talk’ among children and caregivers when playing structured games or on excursions, emerged as a top source of word learning during contact time.