Do infant vocabulary skills predict school-age language and literacy outcomes?
Duff FJ., Reen G., Plunkett K., Nation K.
© 2015 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, on behalf of Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Background Strong associations between infant vocabulary and school-age language and literacy skills would have important practical and theoretical implications: Preschool assessment of vocabulary skills could be used to identify children at risk of reading and language difficulties, and vocabulary could be viewed as a cognitive foundation for reading. However, evidence to date suggests predictive ability from infant vocabulary to later language and literacy is low. This study provides an investigation into, and interpretation of, the magnitude of such infant to school-age relationships. Methods Three hundred British infants whose vocabularies were assessed by parent report in the 2nd year of life (between 16 and 24 months) were followed up on average 5 years later (ages ranged from 4 to 9 years), when their vocabulary, phonological and reading skills were measured. Results Structural equation modelling of age-regressed scores was used to assess the strength of longitudinal relationships. Infant vocabulary (a latent factor of receptive and expressive vocabulary) was a statistically significant predictor of later vocabulary, phonological awareness, reading accuracy and reading comprehension (accounting for between 4% and 18% of variance). Family risk for language or literacy difficulties explained additional variance in reading (approximately 10%) but not language outcomes. Conclusions Significant longitudinal relationships between preliteracy vocabulary knowledge and subsequent reading support the theory that vocabulary is a cognitive foundation of both reading accuracy and reading comprehension. Importantly however, the stability of vocabulary skills from infancy to later childhood is too low to be sufficiently predictive of language outcomes at an individual level - a finding that fits well with the observation that the majority of 'late talkers' resolve their early language difficulties. For reading outcomes, prediction of future difficulties is likely to be improved when considering family history of language/literacy difficulties alongside infant vocabulary levels.