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Get language right to boost success

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Preparing children for school with basic maths, language and social skills holds them in good stead when they enter the Year 1 fray and language skill looks like the important skill of all.

A child's use of vocabulary and grammar predicts future proficiency with the spoken and written word and affects performance in other subject areas.

It also looks to have a longer-term effect; children's performance in kindergarten continues to predict their performance in grades three through five. This was consistent for language, math and reading, and suggests that boosting children's development in those first five years is essential for long-term academic success.

Language is the bedrock of academic and social success, says Amy Pace, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

"A lot of other research focuses on math, science and literacy, and they don't even consider that language could be playing a role," she said. "But really, it emerges as a strong predictor across subject areas. Why do kids succeed in math, for example? Part of it could be having a strong math vocabulary."

Language – the ability to fluidly learn words and to string them together into sentences – was the hands-down winner, when it came to predicting academic success said co-author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University.

Researchers from Temple University, the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina examined longitudinal data from more than 1200 children in the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development's Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. That study used several measures of academic and social skills at specific ages and grade levels, including evaluations upon entry to kindergarten and in grades 1, 3 and 5.

Researchers in the UW study wanted to discover whether there are relationships between skills in combination, and how these combined abilities might predict gains, or growth.

The team analysed academic and behavioral assessments, assigned standardised scores and looked at how scores correlated in grades 1, 3, and 5. Growth curve modeling allowed the team to look at children's levels of performance across time and investigate rates of change at specific times in early schooling.

Reading ability in kindergarten predicted reading, math and language skills later on; and math proficiency correlated with math and reading performance over time.

Reading skills include the ability to decode letter and sound combinations to pronounce words, and to comprehend word meanings and contexts while language is the ability to use those words and complex syntax and grammar to communicate in speech and writing which is why is has such an effect on other areas of learning and has such potential to affect other areas of development.

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