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Childhood Language Skills and Adult Literacy: A 29-Year Follow-up Study

Lookup NU author(s): Professor James LawORCiD


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OBJECTIVES: Our aim was to assess the longitudinal trajectory of childhood receptive language skills and early influences on the course of language development. METHODS: Drawing on data collected for a nationally representative British birth cohort, the 1970 British Cohort Study, we examined the relationship between directly assessed early receptive language ability, family background, housing conditions, early literacy environment, and adult literacy skills. A sample of 11 349 cohort members who completed the English Picture Vocabulary Test at 5 years of age were studied again at 34 years of age, when they completed a direct assessment of their basic literacy skills. We contrasted experiences of individuals with language problems at age 5 against the experiences of those with normal language skills at that age, assessing the role of socioeconomic family background and early literacy environment in influencing the longitudinal course of developmental language problems. Statistical comparisons of rates with 2 tests at P values of .001, .01, and .05 were made, as well as multivariate logistic regressions. RESULTS: Cohort members with receptive language problems at age 5 had a relatively disadvantaged home life in childhood, both in terms of socioeconomic resources and the education level of their parents, but also regarding their exposure to a stimulating early literacy environment. Although there is significant risk for poor adult literacy among children with early language problems, the majority of these children develop competent functional literacy levels by the age of 34. Factors that reduce the risk for persistent language problems include the child being born into a working family, parental education beyond minimum school-leaving age, advantageous housing conditions, and preschool attendance. CONCLUSION: Effective literacy-promoting interventions provided by pediatric primary care providers should target both children and parents. Pediatrics 2010;125:e459–e466

Publication metadata

Author(s): Schoon I, Parsons S, Rush R, Law J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Pediatrics

Year: 2010

Volume: 125

Issue: 3

Pages: e459-e466

Print publication date: 08/02/2010

ISSN (print): 0031-4005

ISSN (electronic): 1098-4275

Publisher: American Academy of Pediatrics


DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-2111


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