Children’s vocabulary skills are linked to their economic background and by 3 years of age there can be a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest families and those from the poorest. Recent studies show that the vocabulary gap is evident in toddlers. By 18 months, children in different socio-economic groups display dramatic differences in their vocabulary.
The problem with this situation is that the shortfall in Early Years is rarely made up. The gap remains fairly consistent throughout schooling and at secondary phase we can only go so far to address this. One of the reasons is the quantity of language heard in the home and in the circle a child is exposed to which is linked to the size of a child’s vocabulary. Of critical importance also is the variety of language that children experience. The more words the child experiences, the more likely they are to hear some of the rarer words in the language.
Studies in word learning show that when the child knows more words, this helps him/her to group together combinations of speech sounds, which in turn makes it easier to learn a new word comprising speech sounds that the child already knows.
Reading and listening lead to speaking and writing, so the poorer the passive skills, the poorer the productive skills. Here at National we are trying hard to redress this situation with our literacy strategy and oracy strategy, which are designed to go some way to make up the disparity. One important tip for us is to be sensitive to children making pronunciation errors because it could be that they learnt certain words from reading rather than hearing or using those words.
Anything we can do as parents, carers and teachers to improve literacy skills will enhance life chances and improve social capital.