Why can some young children communicate easily but others struggle? How can we intervene early to ensure children have the best possible language skills when they start school?
Since 2002, the Early Language in Victoria Study (ELVS) has been helping researchers examine how language skills develop from infancy right through to adolescence. It is the largest study of its kind anywhere in the world.
In 2002, over 1900 eight-month-old babies joined ELVS. Since then, a team of researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute has been using various assessments and questionnaires to gain a better understanding of how child language develops. The team also aims to examine factors that predict language pathways, and examine how language development impacts on child emotional, behavioural and academic outcomes.
ELVS has contributed substantially to international knowledge on language development. For example, ELVS researchers found that most ‘late talkers’ – those with fewer than 50 words at age two- catch up to their peers by age five, and early knowledge of language can predict school readiness.
"We are incredibly grateful to the many families who have participated in the long running ELVS study" says Professor Sheena Reilly, a lead researcher on the study. "Without them we would not have learned so much. The information they have provided us with is helping us to work with other in Australia and the rest of the world to help improve services to children with language problems".
ELVS also offers a unique opportunity to study stuttering and speech development. An ELVS sub-study found that stuttering is twice as common as previously thought (11.2%) but that in most cases it is very mild. This sub-study also found that children who are anxious or shy are not more likely to develop a stutter. Another ELVS sub-study found that examining how children use gestures and communicate socially can help with the diagnosis of autism.
“The ELVS study continues to be incredibly important,” says researcher Professor Melissa Wake. “Language impairment is very common- one in five children under the age of five have difficulties understanding what is being said to them or expressing themselves. This research gives us an unprecedented opportunity to examine how these issues develop, how much they cost families and society, and when and how to intervene.”
Researchers will continue to collect data from the ELVS participants in 2016 as they turn 13 years old. This will provide some of the most comprehensive data ever gathered that examines how language continues to develop as children move into adolescence and settle in to secondary school.