Early language ability predicts future language outcomes


A new report examines how early language abilities can successfully predict a child’s future facility with language, which can ensure good outcomes.

A child’s language abilities are an important element to his or her academic outcomes, which have long-reaching health consequences. A report in Pediatrics offers a look at how early life factors can impact these abilities later in life.1

The researchers used participants that were in a prospective community cohort study of infants who were recruited at 8 to 10 months of age. Each child completed 11-year data collection; participated in language assessments at 2, 4, 5, and 7 years of age; and completed National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests at any or all of the following year levels at school: grades 3, 5, and 7, on average approximately ages 8, 10, and 12 years of age. The early life factors examined included prematurity, birth weight, family history of language difficulties, and maternal vocabulary as well as education.

The researchers concluded that 11% to 12% of the variance in language scores seen in children at 11 years of age was explained by early life factors. This variance then increased to 47% to 64% if the language scores from the assessments at 2 and 7 years of age were also increased. They found that the largest variance increase could be explained with scores at 4 years of age. Same early life factors were found to explain 13% to 14% of academic scores for children aged 11 years. Additionally, early life factors were found to adequately discriminate between children with low and typical language scores, but these factors were much better at discriminating between children with typical and low academic scores.

They concluded that a child’s language outcome at 11 years of age can be accurately predicted using the child’s language ability at 4 years of age. Additionally, academic outcomes at age 11 years can be predicted using early familial and home environment factors. Children aged 11 years who were found to have low language abilities were found to consistently perform poorly on assessments of literacy and numeracy. The results highlight the need to begin assessment of a child’s language abilities early in life as well as understand the child’s family history and home environment to help the child achieve the optimal outcome.


1. Eadie P, Bavin E, Bretherton L, et al. Predictors in infancy for language and academic outcomes at 11 years. Pediatrics. January 11, 2021. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-1712

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