Language delays of impoverished preschool children in relation to early academic and emotion recognition skills

Keith E. Nelson, Janet A. Welsh, Elisabeth M.Vance Trup, Mark T. Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Prevalence of delayed language vs. normative language was examined in impoverished preschool children. On the basis of vocabulary, syntax comprehension, and syntax expression, 336 4-year-olds attending Head Start preschools in the US were assigned to five language status categories. A majority of these children living in poverty demonstrated clinically significant language delays, and this held true equally for Majority (White European) and Minority (here African-American or Latino) children. Many of the children living in poverty showed delays that place them in Strong Delay or Moderate Delay status rather than Mild Delay status. Moreover, as children's language status declined from High Language to Low-Average Language to the three increasingly strong language delays, their academic and socioemotional skills decreased systematically. This conclusion holds, with large effect sizes, for emotion recognition skills, basic mathematics, print knowledge, phonological elision, and phonological blending. Given the high prevalence of language delays and the strong associations of language status levels to multiple skills considered important for school readiness, it may be advisable in intervention, education, and clinical service programs to expand the use of high-quality and high-quantity language teaching and language therapy procedures. Further, it is suggested that making more adjustments in instruction to current levels of language mastery by children in poverty might facilitate instructional effectiveness in most preschool skill domains. These recommendations are discussed in relation to dynamic systems theory and prior intervention studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-194
Number of pages31
JournalFirst Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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