Motoko Rich’s New York Times article, “Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K,” reports that the results of a decades-long study found that  “by age 3, the children of wealthier professionals have heard words millions more times than those of less educated parents.”  New research by Anne Fernald, a Stanford University psychologist, found that the previous research is still valid.  Fernald reported “that because professional parents speak so much more to their children, the children hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income households…” This gap in vocabulary further exacerbates the difficulty for low-income students to learn to read, and the gap continues to grow during their education years, and it is very difficult to close that gap.

Of course, this is of great interest to early literacy experts and other education policy officials, but parents of very young children can take steps right now.  Experts caution parents against using flash cards with pictures and making children memorize words.  They encourage parents to have natural conversations with their children, to ask questions while reading books, and to help them identify words during play time.  For example, Rich suggests that describing fruit and pointing out the shape of a stop sign are simple ways that parents can enhance their young children’s vocabularies.