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Conversations with kids help them develop better language skills

A study published by the Society for Neuroscience has confirmed the theory that communication between adults and children can have a considerable influence on early brain development. Among young children who engaged in regular conversation with adults, the researchers found stronger connectivity in brain regions that are critical for language.

In 1995, a highly influential study revealed that children from higher-income families are exposed to about 30 million more words compared to children from lower-income families. The finding of this “word gap” suggested that early language exposure may have an impact on brain structure.

Earlier this year, a team of cognitive scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) demonstrated that brain physiology and language skills among four to six-year-olds were more heavily influenced by conversation with adults than by the so-called word gap.

Harvard and MIT graduate student Rachel Romeo was the lead author of the study, which was published in the online edition of Psychological Science.

“The important thing is not just to talk to your child, but to talk with your child. It’s not just about dumping language into your child’s brain, but to actually carry on a conversation with them,” said Romeo.

For the current study, Romeo’s team used neuroimaging to examine the brain structure of 40 children between the ages of four and six, who had diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

Based on conversations recorded between the children and their parents at home, the experts found that greater conversational turn-taking was linked to stronger connectivity between two brain regions that are critical for language comprehension and speech production – the Wernicke’s area and the Broca’s area.

The research indicates that talking with children from an early age could enhance their language skills, regardless of parental income or education.

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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