Thursday, September 15, 2016

"The 30 million word gap"

According to the NZ Herald,

Some children are starting school without the ability to speak in sentences, sparking a government investigation.

A Nelson school principal, "said busy and tired parents not speaking enough with their kids was a key part of the issue, with many leaving parenting to the TV and electronic devices."
I can accept some element of truth in this but equally, busy people always find time. My children grew up during the video explosion and watched hundreds of movies. But they were also read to daily and talked to constantly.
What I am reminded of was a study I read about some years back.

The results of the study were more severe than the researchers anticipated. Observers found that 86 percent to 98 percent of the words used by each child by the age of three were derived from their parents’ vocabularies. Furthermore, not only were the words they used nearly identical, but also the average number of words utilized, the duration of their conversations, and the speech patterns were all strikingly similar to those of their caregivers.

After establishing these patterns of learning through imitation, the researchers next analyzed the content of each conversation to garner a better understanding of each child’s experience. They found that the sheer number of words heard varied greatly along socio-economic lines. On average, children from families on welfare were provided half as much experience as children from working class families, and less than a third of the experience given to children from high-income families. In other words, children from families on welfare heard about 616 words per hour, while those from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour, and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. Thus, children being raised in middle to high income class homes had far more language exposure to draw from.

 This amounted to a 30 million word gap by age three.

In addition to looking at the number of words exchanged, the researchers also looked at what was being said within these conversations. What they found was that higher-income families provided their children with far more words of praise compared to children from low-income families. Conversely, children from low-income families were found to endure far more instances of negative reinforcement compared to their peers from higher-income families. Children from families with professional backgrounds experienced a ratio of six encouragements for every discouragement. For children from working-class families this ratio was two encouragements to one discouragement. Finally, children from families on welfare received on average two discouragements for every encouragement. Therefore, children from families on welfare seemed to experience more negative vocabulary than children from professional and working-class families. 

Ironically one of the reasons the DPB was introduced was to allow sole mothers more time with their children. To reduce their stress and enable better parenting.
Today it is known that maternal depression, welfare dependence and low literacy are all associated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just goes to show that noting - especially not government schools - can make up for parents who don't live their own kids enough to talk to them, or enough to send them to a private or charter school!

Yet another data point that closing down all the government schools should be s high priority for National and especially ACT.