Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary

Adriana Weisleder*, Anne Fernald

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

625 Scopus citations


Infants differ substantially in their rates of language growth, and slow growth predicts later academic difficulties. In this study, we explored how the amount of speech directed to infants in Spanish-speaking families low in socioeconomic status influenced the development of children's skill in real-time language processing and vocabulary learning. All-day recordings of parent-infant interactions at home revealed striking variability among families in how much speech caregivers addressed to their child. Infants who experienced more child-directed speech became more efficient in processing familiar words in real time and had larger expressive vocabularies by the age of 24 months, although speech simply overheard by the child was unrelated to vocabulary outcomes. Mediation analyses showed that the effect of child-directed speech on expressive vocabulary was explained by infants' language-processing efficiency, which suggests that richer language experience strengthens processing skills that facilitate language growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2143-2152
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • cognitive processes
  • environmental effects
  • individual differences
  • language development
  • poverty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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