Understanding the developmental path to early literacy, which is dependent upon earlier developing language comprehension and production and the activities that support it, is a priority in psychological and educational research. This is consistent with a long-standing focus on identifying those children at greatest risk for language delay early in development. These children are also at risk for difficulties in school. Children with deficits in both comprehension and production are at the greatest risk such that identifying children on the basis of production only results in an under-identification of those most in need of intervention. Language comprehension is central to the development of productive language, literacy, and general cognitive skills but has received limited attention due in part to the difficulty of assessing comprehension early in development. Two primary difficulties limit the measurement of early comprehension: infant distractibility and the portability or ease of test administration in settings outside the lab. A methodology is needed to assess early language comprehension and predict subsequent language and literacy. It must be easily administered by primary care providers and have utility across languages and monolingual and bilingual populations. We propose to address the issues of attention and portability by assessing the long-term predictive validity of the Computerized Comprehension Task. The CCT recruits infant attention to permit direct assessments of vocabulary comprehension in the second year of life. Because the procedure takes only 10 minutes to administer and can be self-contained on any computer with a touch sensitive screen, assessment can be made widely available as part of routine home or office visits. The present studies seek to evaluate the efficacy of the CCT to assess early comprehension across language groups (French, English, Spanish monolinguals and French-English and Spanish- English bilinguals) and to predict developmental outcomes over time including early literacy and school-readiness as children approach kindergarten. This cross-linguistic, longitudinal research will yield a rich picture of the transitions from comprehension to production and from production to early literacy. It will extend a new technology to address the pressing need to identify children at risk for language and literacy difficulties early in development and may facilitate the early identification of children at risk for developmental language disorders such as Specific Language Impairment or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Public Health Relevance

These studies will bridge research on early language and literacy. The project will extend the existing literature on emergent literacy and contribute to the pressing need to identify those children at greatest risk for persistent language delay. The results will serve to inform basic scientists, clinicians, and educators. If we are successful in predicting developmental risk from early vocabulary comprehension, then it may be possible to undertake language and literacy intervention far earlier than is common practice.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-AARR-H (52))
Program Officer
Miller, Brett
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San Diego State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
San Diego
United States
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Poulin-Dubois, Diane; Yott, Jessica (2018) Probing the depth of infants' theory of mind: disunity in performance across paradigms. Dev Sci 21:e12600
DeAnda, Stephanie; Hendrickson, Kristi; Zesiger, Pascal et al. (2018) Lexical Access in the Second Year: a Study of Monolingual and Bilingual Vocabulary Development. Biling (Camb Engl) 21:314-327
Kehoe, Margaret; Patrucco-Nanchen, Tamara; Friend, Margaret et al. (2018) The relation between phonological and lexical development in French-speaking children. Clin Linguist Phon 32:1103-1125
Crivello, Cristina; Phillips, Sara; Poulin-Dubois, Diane (2018) Selective social learning in infancy: looking for mechanisms. Dev Sci 21:e12592
Legacy, Jacqueline; Zesiger, Pascal; Friend, Margaret et al. (2018) Vocabulary size and speed of word recognition in very young French-English bilinguals: A longitudinal study. Biling (Camb Engl) 21:137-149
Friend, Margaret; Smolak, Erin; Liu, Yushuang et al. (2018) A cross-language study of decontextualized vocabulary comprehension in toddlerhood and kindergarten readiness. Dev Psychol 54:1317-1333
Friend, Margaret; DeAnda, Stephanie; Arias-Trejo, Natalia et al. (2017) Developmental changes in maternal education and minimal exposure effects on vocabulary in English- and Spanish-learning toddlers. J Exp Child Psychol 164:250-259
Hendrickson, Kristi; Poulin-Dubois, Diane; Zesiger, Pascal et al. (2017) Assessing a continuum of lexical-semantic knowledge in the second year of life: A multimodal approach. J Exp Child Psychol 158:95-111
Burnside, Kimberly; Wright, Kristyn; Poulin-Dubois, Diane (2017) Social motivation and implicit theory of mind in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Res 10:1834-1844
Legacy, Jacqueline; Reider, Jessica; Crivello, Cristina et al. (2017) Dog or chien? Translation equivalents in the receptive and expressive vocabularies of young French-English bilinguals. J Child Lang 44:881-904

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