Institute of Education


New report reveals key predictors of toddlers' language abilities

16 October 2017

Wooden alphabet dice

A new report co-authored by Professor Julie Dockrell from the Centre for Language, Literacy and Numeracy at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) finds that a child's ability to put words together may be a better predictor of later abilities than the number of words that the child uses.

Published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and led by Newcastle University with support from the IOE, Manchester University and Better Communication PLC, the report explores language needs, provision and interventions for pre-school children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who are particularly at risk of developing language difficulties.

The authors review the evidence on early language development, with the aim to provide early years services with useful guidance for monitoring language development in children at risk. 

The report finds that, in 2015, approximately 15-20% of four-and five-year-old children across England were not meeting expected levels for the communication, language, and literacy skills (CLL) on the Early Years Foundation Stage measure. These figures are also sensitive to social disadvantage.

The authors also found that children should be using between 50 and 100 words before they attempt to put words together, and that this skill can be a better predictor of later abilities than the number of words used.

The report provides a systematic review of 49 language intervention studies for pre-school children, identifying those that have had positive results on developing language skills. The authors argue that one of the most effective ways to improve early language development for this group would be to implement training for teachers in early years settings. They also identify interactions with parents as key, highlighting the need to promote positive interactions between parents and their children before they get to nursery at 2-3 years.

The full report is available from the Education Endowment Foundation, with details of the interventions reviewed, case studies and red flags for language monitoring.

Media contact

Rowan Walker
Email: r.walker@ucl.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 8815