What is it about?

Our study tests two groups of 2-year-olds: typical talkers and late talkers (i.e., children not speaking many words or sentences). We find that 2-year-old late talkers are slower than typical talkers to recognize nouns and verbs, suggesting late talkers have difficulties in comprehending, not just producing, words, and this may be especially true of verbs at age 2. However, both late and typical talkers successfully used a known verb to learn a novel noun (e.g., in "You can eat the dax," the "dax" is likely a food), indicating that late talkers' comprehension skills are strong enough to support language-based word-learning.

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Why is it important?

Between 10 and 20% of children show delays in producing words and/or sentences around the age of 2, but the nature and cause of this delay vary a lot across children. Our study finds that as a group, late talkers also show comprehension difficulties, especially for verbs, so these children's language skills are not delayed only in word production. On the other hand, late talkers still successfully performed the complex comprehension task of using a known word to infer the meaning of another word. Eventually, we hope that language comprehension measures can play a role in identifying those late talkers who are most likely to experience continuing language delays throughout childhood.


This article is part of a much larger project, the When to Worry study, that brings together authors from a wide range of different backgrounds in psychology, developmental science, and communication sciences and disorders to examine early language and socio-emotional development. It has been amazing to work with this interdisciplinary group to better understand the linguistic and social abilities of young toddlers with the goal of creating new measures that can predict toddlers' future language and behavioral outcomes.

Alexander LaTourrette
University of Pennsylvania

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: From Recognizing Known Words to Learning New Ones: Comparing Online Speech Processing in Typically Developing and Late-Talking 2-Year-Olds, Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, May 2023, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), DOI: 10.1044/2023_jslhr-22-00580.
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