Four Girls and Boys Looking at the Same Textbook in a Classroom at Primary School

Closing the ‘Word’ Gap Cont’d


How does research regarding the effect of word learning and language processing implicate you as a parent regardless of your socioeconomic status (SES)? Richer language models evidenced in child-directed speech not only effect expressive vocabulary and word learning, but also critical processing skills that enable learning (Weisleder & Fernald, 2013).


Disadvantaged children not only have smaller vocabularies than their same-aged peers from professional families, but they have also been found to add words more slowly due to a reduction in language processing abilities (Heart & Risley, 2003).  This means that over time, the disadvantage felt by children from low SES backgrounds increases exponentially due to such reduced processing capabilities.

In fact, a follow-up study conducted by Dale Walker found vocabulary use at age 3 to be predictive of language skills and reading comprehension at 9-10 years of age (Heart & Risley, 2003).


Therefore, it is important as a parent to direct speech and gestures towards your baby, as babies tend not to absorb passive language experiences, such as a conversation between adults in their immediate environments, in the same manner that they absorb language directed towards them.  This means that you should spend as much time possible talking TO your baby and gesturing TO your baby.  By introducing a child-directed, gestural system like Baby Sign before the onset of spoken language, you are enhancing your baby’s language exposure/experience.  Remember, this is not only important for word learning, but for language-processing overall and, ultimately, for later academic achievement.


Don’t wait another minute to give your baby a head start in achieving academic success!  Click here to sign up for your baby sign online course!

For more information, please refer to:

Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. (2003). The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3. American Educator, Spring 2003, 4-9. Retrieved from

Weisleder, A. & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to children matters: Early language experience strengthens processing and builds vocabulary. Psychological Science, November 2013 24: 2143-2152.

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