23rd March 2011

The British Academy awarded a grant (£7,500) to Danielle Mathews (PI), Jane Herbert and Julian Pine for the project “Does promoting parents' engagement with their infants benefit language development?”


How do parents affect the way their children learn language? From the moment a child is born, it’s not simply the amount of speech they hear that matters. The way in which parents talk to their children has a large impact on language development. Parents who frequently talk about what their infant is looking at (a behaviour called ‘following in’) have children who, a year later, have larger vocabularies.

Indeed, studies have shown that differences in the degree to which parents engage in ‘verbal following in’ can explain why children in socio-economically disadvantaged families go to school with far poorer language skills than their advantaged peers. If parents were made aware of the potential importance of following in, and given examples
of how to engage in this activity, would this promote language development? Or do parents who naturally engage in more following in have other qualities (e.g., better language skills themselves) and so have children with larger vocabularies regardless of interaction style? We aim to address these questions in a socio-economically
balanced sample.