Conversations Between Adults and Children Help Their Language Skills

New research shows that having back-and-forth conversations between adults and younger children- as opposed to merely talking at them- could help strengthen the connections between the language regions of the child’s brain.

The new study published this past Monday in The Journal of Neuroscience saw that dialogue with adults could lead to stronger pathways between two regions of the brain crucial for language development in children.

Dr. Rachel Romeo, a postdoctoral research fellow is the lead author of the study who works at Boston Children’s Hospital. She said that the connections between the regions of the brain were stronger with children who converse with their parents. The improved connectivity was the same across various socioeconomic status.

A team from Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts Institue of Technology conducted the study. The information came from a small group of children, 40 from ages 4 to 6.

Researchers recorded the children with their parents for two days. They captured how many different words the children heard, spoke, and how often they conversed with their caregivers. Afterward, the team took an MRI scan of the children’s brains. They performed routine office tests so they could measure the verbal and cognitive abilities of the children.

Those who held more conversations with their parents had better connections in their brains for speech and comprehension production. They also scored higher on verbal skills tests.

Many already know the quality and quantity of language children hear early in life help predict their future cognitive and verbal skills.

Other Research on the Subject of Conversations with Children and What this Study Means for the Future

In the 1990s, research found that children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to an average of 30 million more words than their peers from a lower socioeconomic status by the time they reach school age. These findings were dubbed “the word gap” in the medical community.

After that study, others have focused on getting children to hear more words. Romeo believes the word gap approach is overly simplistic in language development. Her team’s work contributes to a movement that thinks more about the quality of speech they hear rather than quantity.

Other research has linked their verbal skills of children to the complexion of conversation they have while still young with adults. This study, however, is the first to suggest which specific structural changes the brain has that might be the reason for this association. Since the study was small in scale, the connection still needs a larger scale to prove itself.

Romeo explains this was an early-stage study to see whether relationships linking brain structure and conversational speech exist. Now that it’s proven they do, an intervention study will begin where parents and children are brought in together as researchers target those regions of the brain.

If the study confirms the verity of this association, it’s an inexpensive intervention any caregiver can gift their child.

When children engage in conversation with an adult, you can find specific language for their level of development. In the meantime, they’re receiving optimal feedback.