To understand language, children must listen for meaning in speech sounds that unfold rapidly in time. Researchers have begun to explore the emergence of early efficiency in language understanding in typically developing (TD) infants, but little is known about how speech processing abilities develop in children who are at risk for language delay (LD), the question that motivates this proposal. Two longitudinal studies with English- and Spanish-learning children at risk for language delay explore relations between online measures of processing efficiency and traditional measures of language and cognitive competence on experimental and standardized tests. Participants in Study I, (n=125) recruited at 18 months, include English-learning TD children as well as "late talkers" (LT), some who will later move into the normal range, and some who will remain at risk for language delay. These children are tested in the "looking-while-listening" (LWL) procedure to assess speech processing skill at 18, 24, 30, 36, &48 months. Participants in Study II (n=126) are Spanish-learning children at risk for language delay, as well as bilingual children learning Spanish and English simultaneously, also recruited at 18 months including TD and LT children. These Latino children are assessed at 18, 24, 36, 48, &60 months. One goal is to adapt online processing measures developed with TD children to focus on Language Processing Challenges (LPCs) in four critical areas of language competence: familiar word recognition;use of morphosyntactic information;semantic integration;and novel word learning, all areas in which LD children have difficulties. A second goal is to establish the validity of these new online processing measures for use with very young children in relation to traditional measures of lexical and grammatical growth and to standardized clinical instruments used to assess language delay. At each age children are tested in the online LWL procedure, yielding precise, sensitive, continuous measures of speed and accuracy in interpreting linguistic stimuli in real time. They are also assessed at each age on standardized tests, enabling us to examine concurrent relations between processing efficiency in each LPC and more traditional measures of language development. Our overarching goal is to determine which measures of language function are most powerful in predicting later outcomes in diverse populations. We use online measures to identify which particular processing problems may be early precursors or "markers" of later language impairment. Our longitudinal designs prospectively track growth in language skills, allowing us to determine to what extent processing efficiency in infancy can distinguish LT children who "catch up" from those who are at risk for language and learning difficulties. Although our major focus is on the clinical relevance of these measures for children at risk for language delay, Studies I &II will also enable us to explore the full continuum of receptive language skill in diverse populations of children learning Spanish and English, documenting individual differences in children who are highly competent as well as those who are having difficulty in spoken language processing.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Cooper, Judith
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Stanford University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Weisleder, Adriana; Fernald, Anne (2013) Talking to children matters: early language experience strengthens processing and builds vocabulary. Psychol Sci 24:2143-52
Fernald, Anne; Marchman, Virginia A; Weisleder, Adriana (2013) SES differences in language processing skill and vocabulary are evident at 18 months. Dev Sci 16:234-48
Bion, Ricardo A H; Borovsky, Arielle; Fernald, Anne (2013) Fast mapping, slow learning: disambiguation of novel word-object mappings in relation to vocabulary learning at 18, 24, and 30months. Cognition 126:39-53
Fernald, Anne; Marchman, Virginia A (2012) Individual differences in lexical processing at 18 months predict vocabulary growth in typically developing and late-talking toddlers. Child Dev 83:203-22
Marchman, Virginia A; Fernald, Anne; Hurtado, Nereyda (2010) How vocabulary size in two languages relates to efficiency in spoken word recognition by young Spanish-English bilinguals. J Child Lang 37:817-40
Fernald, Anne; Thorpe, Kirsten; Marchman, Virginia A (2010) Blue car, red car: Developing efficiency in online interpretation of adjective-noun phrases. Cogn Psychol 60:190-217
Fernald, Anne (2010) Getting beyond the "convenience sample" in research on early cognitive development. Behav Brain Sci 33:91-2
Lew-Williams, Casey; Fernald, Anne (2010) Real-time processing of gender-marked articles by native and non-native Spanish speakers. J Mem Lang 63:447-464
Hurtado, Nereyda; Marchman, Virginia A; Fernald, Anne (2008) Does input influence uptake? Links between maternal talk, processing speed and vocabulary size in Spanish-learning children. Dev Sci 11:F31-9
Marchman, Virginia A; Fernald, Anne (2008) Speed of word recognition and vocabulary knowledge in infancy predict cognitive and language outcomes in later childhood. Dev Sci 11:F9-16