30 Million Word Gap


There is an old saying that children should be seen and not heard. Even today, people who aren’t educated believe that a child that does not speak is a good or well behaved child. These people have the impression that the child that does not speak has more intelligence than children that are talkative.

A research study done in the1995 by Hart and Risley proved just the opposite. This study discovered that a child that does not speak may have a limited vocabulary and low IQ. They also discovered these children that used limited language later had a limited vocabulary, and experienced difficulty reading when they became school aged.

Children that were born into well to do families were most likely to have a vocabulary of 30 million words in three year, while children born in poverty had only experienced 15 million words by age 3. This phenomenon is referred to as the 30 million word gap.

Researchers began by observing 42 families one hour a month for 2 ½ years. Children 0-2 years old were the test subjects. Researcher observed that all families have different amounts of time and experiences when having daily conversations with their children. It was also noted that the children in the study had different experiences that directly affected their usage of language by the time that they were three years of age (Hart and Risley, 1995).

The researchers recorded “everything” that happened within the child’s day. Though there was growth in each child’s language usage during each experiment the growth in language did not continue after the experiment was completed (Hart and Risley).
Parents of children living in poverty had many “inequities in parents’ language input.
A few examples were significantly less talk and gesture, shorter and less complex phrases, less use of open-ended questions and greater use of directives. It was also noted by the researchers there were profound “disparities in early language environments”. The absence of parent speaking to or engaging their children in playful exercises, lead to children showing low development skills in vocabulary, grammar, narrative skills and early literacy skills.” It was noted by researchers that “disparities in language skills are seen from infancy through high school, and the gap widens with age.”

It was learned by researchers that if a child has an begins to hear language—and parents are using direct language—and they continuously engage their child parents are able to modify their child’s ability to be successful academically. Such parents are powerful instruments, and exercise a strong influence on their children’s development through their words. As researchers continue to study child development to find solutions to close the 30 million word gap, it is obvious that one answer is to educate parents of low socioeconomic families to widen their vocabulary. See link for demonstration.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8p9B78CjXk