Effects of Poverty on Language Development

Children who live in poverty face many disadvantages, and among these disadvantages is a risk for delays in language development 2. When a language delay is identified and treated, the outcome can be positive, but left untreated, language delays can produce negative, enduring consequences. Many impoverished children exhibit language delays by the time they enter kindergarten.

Risk for Delay of Early Language Skills

Poverty is a risk factor for early language development 2. Children embark on a lifelong journey of language acquisition on their day of birth. The critical period for language skills occurs during the first three years, characterized by rapid brain growth and development. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders emphasizes that an environment that provides regular exposure to speech and language, and a variety of sights and sounds, facilitates the development of language skills 1. Impoverished parents are less likely to understand that using language with their baby builds language skills, and consequently place these children at risk for language delays from birth.

Effects on Emergent Literacy

Poverty impedes the acquisition of emergent literacy skills, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association 345. The foundation for reading and writing, or literacy skills, begins early. From the day a child arrives in the world, the acquisition of language skills prepares her for literacy, as emergent literacy begins at birth and progresses through the preschool years. Impoverished children may not receive adequate opportunities for talking and listening that influence oral language development, with negative effects on communication skills observed as early as 14 months of age.

Effects on Language Stimulation

In homes unaffected by poverty, language stimulation may occur through a multitude of modes. Examples include consistent verbal interaction, access to age-appropriate media and exposure to a variety of environmental experiences such as museums. Parents who struggle with poverty focus less on language stimulation, and more on providing meals and shelter -- funds for educational experiences and resources may be nonexistent. Children who do not receive adequate language stimulation may begin kindergarten unprepared for the academic tasks of a structured school setting.

Importance of Early Interventions

For the child living in poverty, problems related to language development can negatively influence the probability of academic success. Early identification and intervention for language delays can minimize the risk that the problem will continue, or further jeopardize the child’s academic success. Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin, Ph.D., of California State University reports that exemplary preschool programs produce positive language outcomes for children living in poverty 7. The outcomes appear optimal when children participate in preschool programs as early as infancy.