Exposure to child-directed speech sharpens infants' language processing skills and can predict future success.

The study indicates early intervention can improve language skills in kids lagging behind.

Anne Fernald, a psychology professor at Stanford University, conducted experiments revealing that the language gap between rich and poor children emerges during infancy.

Her work has shown that significant differences in both vocabulary and real-time language processing efficiency were already evident at age 18 months in English-learning infants from higher- and lower-socioeconomic status (SES) families.

By age of 24 months, there was a 6-month gap between SES groups in processing skills critical to language development.

Fernald's work has also identified one likely cause for this gap.

Using special technology to make all-day recordings of low-SES Spanish-learning children in their home environments, Fernald and her colleagues found striking variability in how much parents talked to their children.

Infants who heard more child-directed speech developed greater efficiency in language processing and learned new words more quickly.

The results indicate that exposure to child-directed speech – as opposed to overheard speech – sharpens infants' language processing skills, with cascading benefits for vocabulary learning.


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