A review of the evidence on early language development

A new review of the evidence on early language development, commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation in partnership with Public Health England, has examined the most effective ways to support young children with delays in their early language development between birth and five years old.

James Law and colleagues looked at the existing evidence to find out which interventions have the greatest potential for boosting young children’s language skills and reducing inequalities in outcomes. They identified 44 intervention studies which focused on language and related skills in pre-school. All the studies were randomised controlled trials or quasi-experimental, matched study designs. Positive effect sizes were found in relation to receptive language in 29 studies. They found one of the best ways to improve early language development for this group is by training teachers in early years settings so that they can deliver cost-effective and evidence-based interventions to those children who have fallen behind.

In addition to high-quality early years provision, the researchers identified interactions with parents as key, highlighting the need to promote positive interaction between parents and their children before they start pre-school.

The report also stresses the need for better monitoring of children’s progress at different stages of their development, to catch those children falling behind and to identify those who need targeted, specialised support.

Source: Early Language Development: Needs, provision and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantage backgrounds (October 2017), Public Health England and Education Endowment Foundation

Evaluation of a parent-delivered early language enrichment programme

A study, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, evaluates the effectiveness of a parent-delivered language programme on pre-school children’s language and emerging reading skills.

Kelly Burgoyne and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial with 208 pre-school children (mean age 3 years, 1 month) and their parents living in socially diverse areas of the UK. Children and parents received either an oral language programme or an active control programme targeting motor skills. Parents delivered the 20-minute sessions to their child at home every day over 30 weeks. Children were assessed at pre-test, post-test, and 6 months after post-test on measures of language and motor skills. Early literacy skills (letter-sound knowledge, phoneme awareness and regular and irregular word reading) were assessed at 6 months after post-test only, as children were non-readers at pre- and post-test.

Children who received the language programme made larger gains in language skills (effect size = +0.21) and narrative skills (effect size = +0.36) at post-test than those children who received the active control programme, and these results were maintained six months later. Improvements were also seen in letter-sound knowledge (effect size = +0.42) and regular word reading (effect size = +0.35). No evidence was found that the control programme improved motor skills.

Source: Evaluation of a parent-delivered early language enrichment programme: evidence from a randomised controlled trial (September 2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12819

Evaluation of an early language intervention

A randomised controlled trial, conducted by Silke Fricke and colleagues, looked at the effect of an oral language intervention and compared the extent to which a 30-week programme beginning in nursery and continuing for 20 weeks in Reception was more effective than delivering a 20-week programme starting in Reception.

Children from 34 nurseries in the UK were randomly allocated to a 30-week intervention (n= 132), a 20-week intervention (n=133), or an untreated waiting control group (n=129). Allocation was minimized for gender, age and verbal skills. The children in the 30-week intervention group received the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme for 10 weeks in nursery and continued for 20 weeks in Reception. The 20-week intervention group received only the final 20 weeks of the intervention, beginning when they entered primary school. The control group received their usual schooling.

Children in both the 20- and 30-week programme intervention groups showed greater improvement in oral language skills on measures including the CELF Expressive Vocabulary and CELF Sentence Structure subtests, and the Information Score from the Renfrew Action Picture Test, compared to children in the control group (effect size for the 20-week programme = +0.21; effect size for the 30-week programme = +0.30). However, there was no evidence to suggest that either programme improved early literacy or reading comprehension skills.

Source: The efficacy of early language intervention in mainstream school settings: a randomized controlled trial (October 2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12737

Positive results for early language and pre-literacy intervention

A new study published in Child Development has found positive results for an intervention designed to improve early language and pre-literacy skills in children in Denmark.

Dorthe Bleses and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial of three variations of SPELL (Structured Preschool Efforts in Language and Literacy), to evaluate to what extent the intervention increased children’s language and pre-literacy skills compared to business as usual. SPELL, which is a Danish version of an existing programme, Read it Again-PreK!, is a 20-week storybook-based intervention for children aged  three- to six-years-old. Twice a week, children receive 30-minute lessons in small groups which include a before, during, and after reading activity to address the lesson’s objectives, which is delivered via an iPad-based digital learning technology.

For the trial, 6,483 children from 144 childcare settings were randomly assigned to one of three variations of SPELL, or continued with business as usual. Pre- to post-test comparisons showed an impact of all three interventions for literacy skills (effect sizes = +0.21 to +0.27) but not language skills (+0.04 to +0.16), with little difference among the three variations.

Source: The effectiveness of a large-scale language and preliteracy intervention: The SPELL randomized controlled trial in Denmark (2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12859

Children with ADHD more likely to have language problems

Children with Attention-Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can have trouble with hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention and distractibility, all of which can affect language and communication and can lead to low academic performance and antisocial behavior. A systematic review published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry seeks to establish the types of language problems children with ADHD experience in order to inform future research into how these language problems contribute to long-term outcomes for children with ADHD.

Hannah Korrel and colleagues examined the last 35 years of ADHD research and identified 21 studies using 17 language measures, which included more than 2,000 participants (ADHD children = 1,209; non-ADHD children  = 1,101) for inclusion in the systematic review.

The study found that children with ADHD had poorer performance than non-ADHD children on 11 of the 12 measures of overall language (effect size = 1.09). Children with ADHD also had poorer performance on measures of expressive, receptive and pragmatic language compared with non-ADHD children.

Source: Research Review: Language problems in children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – a systematic meta-analytic review (2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry Volume 58, Issue 6

Does encouraging contingent talk benefit language development?

A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry examines whether language outcomes for low socio-economic status (SES) children can be improved by encouraging contingent talk (how often the parent talks about objects in the child’s current focus of attention) through a low-intensity intervention.

In a randomised controlled trial with high- and low-SES families, 142 children aged 11 months and their parents were randomly allocated to either a contingent talk intervention or a dental health control. Families in the intervention watched a video about contingent talk and were asked to practice it for 15 minutes a day for a month. Families were visited in their homes twice when children were 11, 12, 18 and 24 months. Questionnaires were also collected by mail at 15 months. Parent communication was assessed at 11 months (baseline) and after one month. Infant communication was assessed at baseline, 12, 15, 18 and 24 months.

At baseline, the amount of contingent talk children hear is found to be associated with SES, with lower-SES parents engaging in less contingent talk. At post-test (when children were 12 months old) all parents who had taken part in the intervention engaged in more contingent talk, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Lower-SES parents in the intervention group reported that their children produced more words at 15 and 18 months. However, effects of the intervention didn’t persist at 24 months. So while parents’ contingent talk is increased through the intervention, and this is effective in promoting vocabulary growth for lower-SES infants in the short term, these effects are not long-lasting. The study concludes that follow-up interventions may be necessary to produce benefits lasting to school entry.

Source: A randomised controlled trial to test the effect of promoting caregiver contingent talk on language development in infants from diverse socioeconomic status backgrounds (April 2017), The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry doi:10.1111/jcpp.12725