The Hart-Risley 30 Million Word Gap Study – 1995

After decades of collaborating to increase child language vocabulary, Betty Hart and Todd Risley spent two and a half years intensely observing the language of 42 families throughout Kansas City.  Specifically, they looked at household language use in three different settings:  1) professional families; 2) working class; and 3) welfare families.  Hart and Risley gathered an enormous amount of data during the study and subsequent longitudinal follow-ups to come up with an often cited 30 million word gap between the vocabularies of welfare and professional families by age three.  This controversially large number came from the data that showed welfare children heard, on average, 616 words per hour, while children from professional families (essentially children with college educated parents) heard 2153 words per hour.  The longitudinal research in the following years demonstrated a high correlation between vocabulary size at age three and language test scores at ages nine and ten in areas of vocabulary, listening, syntax, and reading comprehension.  This study was subsequently used to fuel the fire of arguments for early childhood programs such as Head Start.

For an excellent summary of this study, read this.  A good comment on this study and poverty’s influence on education can be found here.

11 responses

  1. Your readers may also be interested in Children of the Code, which includes an interview with Todd Risely.

    Like

    1. There is definitely a lot of info on that site, with a lot of impressive names in education in learning. I’m looking forward to exploring it some more.

      Like

  2. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about their findings. We simply do not know how important repetition and breadth of vocabulary is to cognitive development. We don’t know that more is always better, there may be a threshold at which ‘normal’ brain and cognitive development occurs, and maybe the less talkative poor people more than meet that threshold. In simple statistical terms, the numbers this study cites (a ’30 million word gap’) is misleading because in the largest estimation THERE ARE ONLY 1 MILLION WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, there are only 171,000 words in the massive Oxford English Dictionary, and most people only use 5-10,000 words in their active and passive (reading) vocabularies. A more accurate statistic is this (with still a stark contrast): “Apparently, pre-schoolers of professional families are typically exposed to 2,150 different words, pre-schoolers from working class families to 1,250 words, while those from households on welfare just 620.” Flynn, James R. (2008). Where Have All the Liberals Gone?: Race, Class, and Ideals in America. Cambridge University Press

    Like

  3. […] Hart & Risley (1995) Study Summary A  Speech and Language Pathologist, Paul Morris, has  a nice summary of the study conducted by Hart and Risley (1995). Take a look at his summary. […]

    Like

  4. It seems this study is being interpreted differently. Does a child from academic family hear 2,150 words per hour, as the initial post states, or do they possess a 2,150 vocabulary? If so, how is “knowing vocabulary” assessed?
    2,150 words per hour equals 350 words per minute or close to six words per second. Unlikely even for intellectuals to accomplish that.
    So, if the number is for vocabulary, what age are we talking about? Three year olds?

    @ Chris P
    >>We simply do not know how important repetition and breadth of vocabulary is to cognitive development.<<
    This is not true. We do know that the brain needs repetition to create automaticity for words, and it is obvious that breadth of vocabulary has a direct relation to cognitive development. It's its foundation!

    Like

    1. 2150 words per hour = 35.8 words per minute = .6 words per second

      Like

  5. This is inequality. Then how does a poor family on welfare help their children to achieve higher levels in their vocabulary? Who then educates their parents? Where does this transition begin? Many poor families are illiterate. Where does the help come from especially in poor communities?

    Like

    1. I agree whole heartedly.

      Like

  6. […] who hear so little spoken language from their parents that they start school or nursery at a huge disadvantage compared to their peers. If we are serious about improving grammar at a national level, it is here […]

    Like

  7. […] who hear so little spoken language from their parents that they start school or nursery at a huge disadvantage compared to their peers. If we are serious about improving grammar at a national level, it is here […]

    Like

  8. […] happen before age 3 or 4; the socioeconomic achievement gap turns out to be a gap of the 30 million words of interactive conversation heard by children during those crucial early […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Free Language Stuff

Tons of Language Activities for Specific Language Needs

Unstrange Mind

Remapping My World

Starfish Therapies

Making a difference

Tales of a SLP [Student] Adventureling.

Cassie. 2nd year graduate student studying Speech-Language Pathology.

Transitions

Finding home in a fluid world

antryump

"A Blog worth reading "

missemrc

A great WordPress.com site

Heather Shambles

No, it's not very accurate, but it has a fantastic element of surprise.

Treehouse

Creative Arts and Play Therapy

safetyincucumbers

drivel, punctuated by nonsense

Englishpost.org

English Language Learning and Teaching

Kingdablog

Philosophical naturalism

aggiedaisies

Dreaming, and Inspiring Students In Every Sense

#SLP2bchat

Join the conversation, speechies!

SLP Online

Speech Pathology Online

Wellcome Trust Blog

Life from a Wellcome Trust perspective

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 231 other followers

%d bloggers like this: