A Cross-Language Study of Decontextualized Vocabulary Comprehension in Toddlerhood and Kindergarten Readiness

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Abstract

Recent studies demonstrate that emerging literacy depends on earlier language achievement. Importantly, most extant work focuses on parent-reported production prior to 30 months of age. Of interest is whether and how directly assessed vocabulary comprehension in the 2nd year of life supports vocabulary and kindergarten readiness in the 4th year. We first contrasted orthogonal indices of parent-reported production and directly assessed vocabulary comprehension and found that comprehension was a stronger predictor of child outcomes. We then assessed prediction from vocabulary comprehension controlling for maternal education, preschool attendance, and child sex. In 3 studies early, decontextualized vocabulary comprehension emerged as a significant predictor of 4th year language and kindergarten readiness accounting for unique variance above demographic control variables. Further we found that the effect of early vocabulary on 4th year kindergarten readiness was not mediated by 4th year vocabulary. This pattern of results emerged in English monolingual children (N = 48) and replicated in French monolingual (N = 58) and French–English bilingual children (N = 34). Our findings suggest that early, decontextualized vocabulary may provide a platform for the establishment of a conceptual system that supports both later vocabulary and kindergarten readiness, including the acquisition of a wide range of concepts including print and number. Differences between parent-reported and directly assessed vocabulary and the mechanisms by which decontextualized vocabulary may contribute to conceptual development are discussed.

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