Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Feed Me Words

An intervention program in Providence, R.I., uses a digital word counter to track language use in families, in an effort to close the “word gap” between children from low-income and affluent families. NYT Photo

Here is a really interesting piece in the New York Times: Trying to Close a Language Gap, Word by Word.  It covers a program in Providence, RI which aims to close the vocabulary gap between the children of the poor and wealthy. They use a device to count the number of words a parent speaks to their child, then they analyze the data with the parents and go over ways to increase positive language use: narrating activities, singing, games and even just finding opportunities for ordinary conversation.

The article profiles a Guatemalan family in Providence, noting that it doesn't matter if the language in the home is English or not. The goal of the program isn't to analyze English proficiency, it's to analyze the number of words being spoken in the household, in any language. Which is good - it recognizes that the Spanish spoken the this family's home is of value to the daughter. 

The article reminded me of the This American Life episode about the Harlem's Children Zone. The intro to that episode gives a good summary of the kind of research findings that went into the Providence Talks program. It would be an interesting listen/read for those interested in language aquisition and the lifelong impact it has. Transcript Here:  This American Life: Epidsode 364 

The comments under the NYT article are interesting too. Some people find the program a great way to act on the research about the impact of language-use in the home. Others found it condescending to the poor, as if they don't know how to speak to their own children already. 

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