News Release

Infants capable of complex babble may grow into stronger readers

Some skills needed for literacy may be developed in infancy

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Infants' early speech production may predict their later literacy, according to a study published October 10, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kelly Farquharson from Florida State University and colleagues.

Children with difficulties in identifying letters are more likely to develop reading impairments, but such difficulties cannot be uncovered until the child is 3 to 5 years old. The authors of the present study investigated whether assessing language ability even earlier, by measuring speech complexity in infancy, might predict later difficulties.

The authors tracked nine infants from English-speaking US families between the ages of 9 and 30 months. They recorded each infant's babble as the child interacted with their primary caregiver, looking specifically at the consonant-vowel (CV) ratio, a demonstrated measure of speech complexity. The authors then met each child again when they were six years old to examine their ability to identify letters, a known predictor of later reading impairment.

They found that those children with more complex babble as infants performed better when identifying specific letters in their later reading test. Though the sample size was relatively small and all 9 children participating in this study all developed normally (meaning the range of variability was restricted), these results may indicate a link between early speech production and literacy skill.

The authors suggest that in the future, the complexity of infant babble may be useful as an earlier predictor of reading impairments in children than letter identification tests, enabling parents and professionals to earlier identify and treat children at risk of reading difficulties.

Farquharson adds: "This paper provides exciting data to support an early and robust connection between speech production and later literacy skills. There is clinical utility in this work - we are moving closer to establishing behavioral measures that may help us identify reading disabilities sooner."


In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: pone.0204006

Citation: Farquharson K, Hogan TP, Hoffman L, Wang J, Green KF, Green JR (2018) A longitudinal study of infants' early speech production and later letter identification. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0204006.

Funding: We have updated our funding statement in the manuscript to reflect the following: This work has been supported by the National Institute of Health, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (R01 DC006463), awarded to Jordan R. Green. The funder provided support in the form of salaries for authors [KFG, JRG], but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the 'author contributions' section. Commercial affiliation of KFG did not play a role in the study.

Competing Interests: Regarding our 5th author, Kimber Green, and concern over commercial affiliation - although Mrs. Green is now working at Kimber Green therapies, at the time of data collection for this project, she was employed as a speech-language pathologist at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. At this time, her commercial affiliation remains unrelated to, and without any financial interest in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Her commercial affiliation does not alter our adherence to all PLOS One policies on sharing data and materials.

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