Why Vocabulary Matters

Effects of Early Language Exposure on Vocabulary and Literacy

Language is our most common means of interacting with others and enables us to share thoughts and communicate. Language is the vehicle by which families transmit culture from generation to generation. Culture and language are intimately intertwined, and language contains embedded cultural concepts that influence the way children learn about their world.


Language is at the core of everything a child does and learns in school.

  • Early exposure to language sets the foundation for cognitive ability, literacy, school readiness and, ultimately, educational achievement. It is both the quality and quantity of words a baby hears that brings richness to the child’s vocabulary and has a profound impact on his school performance, IQ and life trajectory.

  • Communication takes many forms, including sounds, signs, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and, most importantly, words.

  • Babies’ brains serve as one-of-a-kind word processors that analyze words spoken by family members and caregivers and store information for use later. The brain “word processor” records information such as the beats and sounds within words, how strings of words fit together, how word sequence and intonation affect meaning and how words can be categorized by meaning. These language skills form the foundation and internal dictionary, or lexicon, that makes learning to read possible.

  •  “Conversational duets” (i.e. repeated serve and return interactions between caregivers and young children) are the most critical component of the language environment. “Toddlers who engage in more ‘conversational duets’ with their caretakers fare better in language measures down the road, regardless of their families’ income level.”

A child’s vocabulary at the age of three is a key predictor of school readiness at kindergarten and third grade reading comprehension, which is a powerful predictor of subsequent academic success. 


Strong Vocabulary Helps Build Social Emotional Skills

The link between language development and social emotional skills is apparent from infancy through adulthood. Strong language skills allow us to label our emotions and communicate our emotions to others. When children have strong communication skills, they are more confident, demonstrate stronger literacy skills and exhibit fewer behavioral problems.

Because language development has such a profound impact on social emotional development, it is essential for adults to nourish children with the words needed to express themselves and build positive relationships with others. Make every baby your conversational partner to give them the language skills they need to interact with others, manage their emotions, learn and excel.



Eisenberg, N., Sadovsky, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (2005). Associations of emotion-related regulation with language skills, emotion knowledge, and academic outcomes. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, (109), 109–118.

Cross, M. (2011). Children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and communication problems: There is always a reason (2nd ed.).  London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingley Publishers.

Talk With Me Baby is made possible by a grant from the United Way of Atlanta and is a collaborative effort among organizations.