Temple Infant & Child Laboratory | Language Research
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Language Research

LANGUAGE OVERVIEW

 

Words are the building blocks of language, and language is one of the key behaviors that distinguishes us from animals. We know a great deal about when children say their first words. We know much less about how they learn these words. In the last 20 years, advances in the sciences of infant development have allowed us to view the processes of early word learning for the first time.

 

Historically, language research has focused on how children learn nouns, or names for objects. Obviously, language consists of much more than naming the things we see around us. Language conveys not only what something is but what something is doing; it requires the use of verbs. If you are interested in learning more about language acquisition, please see the presentations below for a general overview of research. You can also click to the left to take a look at some of new language projects and conference presentations.

 

PAPER: Göksun, T., Hirsh-Pasek, K, & Golinkoff, R. M. (2010). How do preschoolers express cause in gesture and speech? Cognitive Development.

 

PRESENTATION: Golinkoff, R. & Hirsh-Pasek, K. How babies talk.

 

PRESENTATION (Nouns): Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R., Hennon, B., & Maguire, M. Breaking the word learning barrier.

 

PRESENTATION (Verbs): Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R. Where actions meet words: The paradox of early verb learning.

 

PAPER: Göksun, T., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2010). Trading Spaces: Carving Up Events for Learning Language. Perspectives on Psychological Science.

 

BOOK: Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R. M. (2012). How babies talk: Six principles of early language development. In S. Odom, E. Pungello & N. Gardner-Neblett (Eds.), Re-visioning the beginning: The implications of developmental and health science for infant/toddler care and poverty. 77-101.

Computerized Assessment

 

Language is a core ability needed for academic and social success.  Understanding teachers and peers, following narratives, telling stories, participating in conversation, learning to read, and learning to do math all rest on linguistic skill.  However, by age 3, there is already striking variation in children’s verbal ability.  Therefore, it is important to identify young children who are at risk for experiencing language difficulties to create opportunities for intervention.  There is a need for a quick and efficient language screener that is reliable, valid, and culturally nonbiased.

 

Our lab collaborated with the University of Delaware and Smith College to develop a language screener to fill this need.  We developed an easy-to-administer, tablet-based language assessment, the Quick Interactive Language ScreenerTM (QUILSTM) for 3- through 5-year-olds, examining their vocabulary, syntax, and process (how they learn new language items).  The screener capitalizes on touchscreen technology to assess language comprehension, because children often understand more language than they produce and because production measures alone are poor predictors of language impairment.  QUILSTM has a version available for monolingual English-speaking children and a forthcoming version for dual language learners of English and Spanish (QUILS: ES). These assessments are animated, dynamic, and fun for children.

 

The QUILSTM is not only a valid and reliable screener of children’s language comprehension, but also serves as a powerful research tool.  With this tool, we have examined questions about how children use process skills such as fast mapping to learn new words and how socioeconomic status relates to children’s language products and processes.

 

We are currently developing a downward extension of the QUILSTM for 2-year-olds, in order to identify toddlers who may be at risk for developing language impairment and increase the likelihood that appropriate interventions can begin early to forestall continuing language problems.  Similar to the QUILSTM, the Baby QUILS assesses children’s vocabulary, syntax, and language-learning process skills using a unique, digitally engaging format on a touchscreen tablet.  We have already completed two rounds of testing to refine the Baby QUILS, and we are now conducting a final round of field testing to finalize the test items, develop norms for the screener, and evaluate test-retest reliability and convergent validity.

 

PAPER 1: Aravind, A., de Villiers, J., Pace, A., Valentine, H., Golinkoff, R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Iglesias, A., & Wilson, M. S. (2018). Fast mapping word meanings across trials: Young children forget all but their first guess. Cognition, 177, 177-188.

 

PAPER 2: Levine, D., Pace, A., Luo, R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., de Villiers, J., Iglesias, A., & Wilson, M. S. (2018). Evaluating socioeconomic gaps in preschoolers’ vocabulary, syntax and language process skills with the Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS). Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

 

PRESENTATION 1: Levine, D., Odean, R., Weaver, H., Puttre, H., Jackson, E., McCollum, R., Stites, L. J., Hish-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., de Villiers, J., & Iglesias, A. (2019, March). Socioeconomic differences in vocabulary, syntax, and process at age two: Assessment with Baby QUILS. Poster presented at the Society for Research in Child Development Preconference on Bridging the Word Gap, Baltimore, MD.

 

PRESENTATION 2: Weaver, H., Puttre, H., Odean, R., Levine, D., Jackson, E., McCollum, R., Iglesias, A., de Villiers, J., Golinkoff, R. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2019, May). Screening two-year-olds for language issues through comprehension: Convergent validity of the Baby QUILS with the MCDI. Poster presented at the 31st Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention, Washington, D.C.

 

Attention and Language

 

In this project, funded by the Bezos Foundation, we are examining the building blocks that support children’s vocabulary development. Previous work in our lab has found that the quality of parent-child interactions relates to children’s vocabulary. These interactions require a dynamic back-and-forth between a parent and their child. Most research has focused on how the parent can support the interaction, but in our research we are identifying the key child factors that shape interactions. With collaborators at NYU we are examining what role children’s early affect and attention play in building their communication foundation and later language development. Using a sample of participants recruited in the New York City area, we are looking at:

  • Whether children’s early attention abilities relates to the quality of parent-child interactions.
  • How early attention and parent-child interactions support vocabulary development.
  • Whether a child’s early attention or affect is a better predictor of high-quality parent-child interaction.
  • Do cultural differences affect the relation between child factors, parent-child interactions, and children’s vocabulary.

 

PAPER: Luo, R., Alper, R. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Mogul, M., Chen, Y., Masek, L. R., … Owen, M. T. (2019). Community-based, caregiver-implemented early language intervention in high-risk families: Lessons learned. Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action13(3), 283–291.

Quality vs. Quantity

 

Why by age 3 are many low-income children lagging behind their middle-income peers in language development? One widely discussed explanation–the “30-million word gap”– focuses on the quantity of language input: low-income children are behind because they hear substantially fewer words than middle-income children in their first few years of life. Yet, we think that there is more than just a quantity difference and that the quality of early parent-child interaction might play an even bigger role in early language development. With collaborators at Georgia State University, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of Delaware, we are exploring the way that both the quantity of language and the quality of the way parents and their children engage in verbal and non-verbal communication pave the way for young children’s early language success.

 

DUET Project

 

Given our findings on the importance of a high quality communication foundation between parents and toddlers, we’re embarking on an exciting project in collaboration with the Maternity Care Coalition (MCC). The MCC is a trusted community partner and Philadelphia’s largest provider of Early Head Start. Together, we designed a pilot intervention focused on strategies for increasing quality caregiver-child interactions in order to strengthen children’s communication foundation and improve their language outcomes. Our team developed intervention materials, trained advocates and teachers to administer the intervention, and integrated the intervention into MCC’s pre-established home-based and center-based programs. The goal of this project was to help boost the quality of parent-child interactions and help improve children’s language development over time.

 

PAPER 1: Hirsh-Pasek, K., Alper, R. M., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2018). Living in Pasteur’s Quadrant: How Conversational Duets Spark Language at Home and in the Community. Discourse Processes, 55(4), 338-345.

 

DUET Expectant Parents Project

 

In this project, funded by the Bezos Foundation, we are hoping to help parents learn about early communication in order to improve later language outcomes for their children. Our work builds on a previous project, DUET, which was very successful with toddlers and their families, but we are bringing these goals to expectant families, with the idea that this is a time at which families might be most receptive, eager, and anxious to learn about, and foster the development of their infant.

 

Our key research questions are:

 

What are the family backgrounds, stressors, early learning and language knowledge, attitudes and barriers about parenting and infant development among expectant families?

 

How can we adapt the existing DUET Project early communication training modules to increase uptake among expectant families?

 

To do this we are interviewing expectant parents about their family backgrounds, attitudes, and knowledge about infant development and parenting. We will also ask them about some common tips shared with parents of young infants, and send questions by text to those families who are willing.

 

We are also conducting focus groups with small groups of parents to review the video modules from the DUET project.