Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. Chuck Fleishmann (R-TN) convened a Congressional Baby Caucus briefing on Thursday February 15. The briefing centered on how babies learn language, the importance of exposing babies to “conversational duets” (talking to your child about everyday tasks and regularly communicating with them) and sign language.
Dr. Roberta Golinkoff is the Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor at the University of Delaware were on a panel that discussed the importance of the early years of development. Dr. Golinkoff specializes in linguistics and psychological sciences. She discussed the concept of the “30 million-word gap”, where low income children hear 600 words every hour and their upper-class counterparts hear over 2,000 words an hour. Dr. Golinkoff emphasized that the word gap puts low-income kids at a disadvantage because they aren’t absorbing new words and language skills at the rate of high-income kids.
Dr. Melissa Herzig and Sandra Malmquist dove into the importance of supporting early language at home and in childhood programs. Dr. Herzig reported that 85% of families with deaf children are pressured not to sign and to choose spoken services. Exposing children to sign language and spoken languages at later ages works as a disadvantage. Similarly, Ms. Malmquist argues that dual language programs and reading materials will help reduce the “30 million-word gap” by repeatedly exposing children to new words that their brains will absorb.
The major takeaway from the briefing is to invest in children’s language early on. All the panelists agreed that future policies should encourage bilingualism, offer universal pre-school, and provide updated research to medical professionals on the benefits of early language exposure. at the rate of high-income kids.