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The Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Language Acquisition

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Kelley Jeanne

on 10 November 2014

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Transcript of The Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Language Acquisition

Before we look at how language is effected by socioeconomic status, let's first look at theories for how we acquire language. From there we will see how these theories connect to socioeconomic status.
What is the Interactionist Perspective?
The Interactionist Perspective looks at the interaction between an individual's ability and any outside influences from the environment. This point of view emphasizes the interactions between innate ability and environmental influences. Within this theory is also the theory of social interaction. This theory believes that language and social skills are key to language development of children. When a child makes an attempt at language, they are then provided with experiences from adults that help to assist their learning. Natural language ability alone can not provide students with all the tools necessary to successfully learn language.

Where does socioeconomic status fit in to all of this?
Development of Vocabulary
The style of language used daily and habitually among college educated mothers influences the way they talk to their children, which in turn affects the rate at which their children build their productive vocabulary. This language is significantly different than mothers who were not college educated.*
High-SES children often hear longer utterances of greater complexity from caregivers, helping to expand vocabulary.**

Is there anyway we as educators can help this situation?
Hart, B. & Risley, T. (2003). The early catastrophe: The 30 million word gap by age 3. American Educator, 27(1), 4-9.
Hoff, E. (2006). How social contexts support and shape language development. Developmental Review, 26, 55-88.
Hoff-Ginsberg, E. (1991). Mother-child conversation in different social classes and communicative settings.Child Development, 62(4), 782-796.
Hoff, E. (2003). The specificity of environmental influence: Socioeconomic status affects early vocabulary development via maternal speech. Child Development, 74(5), 1368-1378.
Hoff, E., & Tian, C. (2005). Socioeconomic status and cultural influences on language. Journal of Communication Disorders, 38, 271-278.
Huttenlocher, J., Waterfall, H., Vasilyeva, M., Vevea, J., & Hedges, L. V. (2010). Sources of variability in children's language growth. Cognitive Psychology,61, 343-365.
Stein, A., Malmberg, L. E., Sylva, K., Barnes, J., & Leach, P. (2007). The influence of maternal depression, caregiving, and socioeconomic status in the post-natal year on children's language development.Child: care, health and development, 34(5), 603-612.
Thomas, M. S. C., Forrester, N. A., & Ronald, A. (2013). Modeling socioeconomic status effects on language devleopment. Developmental Psychology, 49(12), 2325-2343.
Wild, K. T., Betancourt, L. M., Brodsky, N. L., & Hurt, H. (2013). The effect of socioeconomic status on the language outcome of preterm infants at toddler age. Early Human Development, 89, 743-746.
Vukelich, C., Christie, J., Enz, B. (2008). Helping young children learn language and literacy: Birth-kindergarten, 3rd ed. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

The Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Language Acquisition

There are a variety of theories as to how we acquire language, but for this particular topic we will be focusing on two theories:

The Behaviorist Approach

The Interactionist Perspective
What is the Behaviorist Perspective?
The behavorist perspective theorizes that language is acquired in the same way we learn any other behavior. We learn a behavior through other's responses to a particular behavior. B.F. Skinner, one of the leading theorists on the Behaviorist Perspective, believed that this type of learning is called operant conditioning. When a child makes any type of noise that resembles a word, the child is greeted with hugs, claps, praise, and plenty of positive attention from an adult. This reinforces the behavior and makes the child more likely to repeat the behavior.

Additional Resources:
Erika Hoff
Erika Hoff is a professor at Florida Atlantic University. She has written a variety of books and articles looking at how every unique human experience and their natural born abilities can contribute in some way to language development. She is one of the leading researchers on the topic of Socioeconomic Status and language development. Her articles offer a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to any educator's classroom.
The American Psychological Association defines
socioeconomic status
as the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation.

Students born into low socioeconomic families are less likely to engage in experiences that will help to nurture and develop language in young children. This includes conversation, story telling, reading, and other opportunities for learning at home.

Caregivers and Language
Development of Syntax
Although vocabulary development is effected by SES at a much greater level, syntactic development is also effected.
A child receiving input from a caregiver who uses few structurally complex sentences might be expected to construct a sentence containing simpler grammar than a child receiving input from a caregiver who uses a larger variety of structurally complex sentences. Parents from higher SES were more likely to have longer and richer utterances to children.
The Effects of a Low Socioeconomic Status
Theorists believe that language is acquired via exposure to various vocabulary and through the modeled structure of conversation. The words and clauses a child produces are ones that were heard from a caregiver. The more the child hears the modeled language, the more quickly language will develop.
"Low income mothers have been found to spend less time in mutual play with their children and to talk less to their children than middle-class mothers. The speech low-income mothers direct to their children is more frequently for the purpose of directing the children's behavior, is less frequently contingent on the children's speech, and less frequently asks the child questions just for the purpose of engaging the child in conversation." -
Hoff-Ginsberg, E. (1991)
Provide a vocabulary rich environment with opportunities for students to actively engage in their learning.
Allow plenty of opportunities for students to develop and strengthen their background knowledge of topics through conversation not only with adults but with peers.
Model proper language and appropriate conversational responses.
Become educated about this situation! Understand that not all students are arriving to us on equal ground.
Additional Resources:
Video on correlation between SES and language acquisition:
By: Kelley Urbano
-Vukelich, C., Christie, J., Enz, B. (2008)
- Vukelich, C., Christie, J., Enz, B. (2008)
Why the Behaviorist and
Interactionist Perspectives?

Language acquisition can be looked at through a variety of lenses. Every theorist has their own reasoning as to how and why we learn language. For this particular project, we will be looking at the social aspect of language acquisition. The Behaviorist and Interactionist Perspectives look specifically at how adults directly effect and mold the language development of little ones. The socioeconomic status of parents and caregivers have been shown to directly effect early language acquisition in children.

Now with a working definition of what a socioeconomic status is (SES for short) and a basic understanding of these theories, let's explore why this is effecting children and how they learn language...
-Hoff-Ginsburg, E. (1991)
- Huttenlocher, J. (2010)
- *Hoff, E. (2003)
- **Huttenlocher, J. (2010)

Parents from different social strata may hold different beliefs about the value and appropriateness of talking to children or about the desirability of having a talkative child, and they may behave different as a result.

-Hoff, E., and Tian, C. (2005)
The Effects of a Low Socioeconomic Status
There is a direct relationship between maternal depression and low SES. Mothers suffering from post-natal depression are less likely to provide sufficient care for their children. The quality of care effects not only language development, but overall cognitive development. This is yet another factor that effects children from these households.
- Stein, A. (2007)
The Effects of a Low Socioeconomic Status
According to Thomas, M. et al (2013) Low SES effects language development in three different ways. The first is:

Prenatal Influences
: Low SES is associated with increased likelihood of premature birth and impaired fetal growth, higher levels of stress, higher infection rates, and poor nutrition during pregnancy. These factors may affect early brain development.
- Wild, K. et al (2013)

The second influence is:

Parental Care
- Low SES can impact factors such as discipline, parent–child verbal communication and parental sensitivity to the needs of the child. Quality of parenting may also impact on neurodevelopment. This in turn directly effects language development.
The third influence is:

Environmental Cognitive Stimulation
Items available to the children directly effect their language development. The availability of books, computers, trips, and parental communication, to name a few, are all important.

Exposure to these factors build schema and give children necessary background knowledge to help build their vocabulary.
What does all this mean?
Ultimately, the research looked at for this project supports the theory that social interaction from caregivers has a direct impact on how children's language is developing. Students in low SES households, for a variety of reasons, are not hearing the language necessary to succeed as much as those from more advantaged households.

A staggering statistic given in an article written by Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that, "In four years, an average child in a professional family would accumulate experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family 13 million words." (2003).
This is a 30 million word gap!
- Hart, B., and Risley, T. (2003)
30 Million Word Gap
- Hoff, E. (2005)
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