The ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Institute of Psychology Health & Society

Abstract

LuCiD's mission is to transform our understanding of how children learn to talk, and deliver the scientific evidence needed to design effective interventions in early years education and healthcare.

Learning to use language to communicate effectively is hugely important for society. Many children enter school without the language skills they need to succeed in the classroom, and these early weaknesses in language and communication are a major predictor of educational and social inequality in later life. To tackle this problem, we need to know the answers to a number of questions: How do children learn language from what they see and hear? What do measures of children's brain activity tell us about what they know at different ages? How do differences between children and differences in their environments affect how children learn to talk? Answering these questions is a major challenge for researchers, but, in the first phase of LuCiD, we have made great strides towards meeting this challenge by bringing together researchers from a range of different research backgrounds and with a range of different research skills.

In its next phase, LuCiD will build on this success by coordinating three research streams in the UK and abroad.

STREAM 1: FROM VARIATION TO EXPLANATION: will take what we have discovered about word learning and grammatical development and use it to explain development in children with Developmental Language Disorder.

STREAM 2: FROM SIMPLE TO COMPLEX: will take what we have discovered about communicative development and use it to understand how different groups of children learn to use language to communicate in the more complicated real-world situations that they will encounter when they enter school.

STREAM 3: BEYOND 0-5: will build on LuCiD's 0-5 project - a study of 80 children's language learning across the first 5 years - by a) using the 0-5 data to understand how children's curiosity-based exploration shapes their word learning; b) using the 0-5 data to build individualized computer models of how particular children perform across different experiments and across development; and c) following the 0-5 children into school and determining how their preschool language abilities impact on the beginnings of their literacy development.

In this research, we will seek to understand language learning using a range of different methods. We will observe and record children in natural interaction as well as studying their language in more controlled experiments and using behavioural measures and correlations with brain activity (EEG). Combining information collected using these different methods will constrain the types of explanations that can be proposed; and using computer models to understand our results will help us to create more accurate and comprehensive theories of how children learn.

The next phase of LuCiD will also include a COMMUNICATIONS AGENDA, a TECHNOLOGY AGENDA and a CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAMME.

In the COMMUNICATIONS AGENDA, we will work with our IMPACT CHAMPIONS to ensure that parents know how they can best help their children learn to talk, and to give healthcare and education professionals and policy-makers the information they need to create training and intervention programmes that are firmly rooted in the latest research findings.

In the TECHNOLOGY AGENDA, we will make the new tools and research designs that we have developed, and the new data that we have collected, available to other researchers and practitioners on an open access basis.

In the CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAMME, we will train new researchers in the range of different methods used across the Centre, and in how to communicate their findings to parents, educational professionals and policy makers. This will ensure the long-term future of language development research in the UK and of our approach to understanding how children learn to talk.

Planned Impact

WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM THIS RESEARCH?
Acquiring effective skills in language and communication in children's early years is critically important for life outcomes, and this is recognised as the first ambition of the DfE's 'Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential' Social Mobility Action Plan (2017).

LuCiD's research enhances the evidence base toward effective early years support for language and early literacy development. Our work thus addresses 3 ESRC Strategic priorities: Productivity, Mental Health and Innovation in Health and Social Care. Our research is beneficial to the following groups:

- Children, parents/caregivers, and organisations supporting language and literacy development;
- Practitioners in preschool and primary school education and health;
- Policy makers in early years provision of health and educational services;
- Cultural organisations and broadcasters engaged with events and presentations for children;
- Developers of technology and publishers of materials and tests to support training and evaluation of children's communicative skills.

HOW WILL THEY BENEFIT FROM THIS RESEARCH?
Children, parents/caregivers, charities and third-sector organisations, and practitioners will benefit through our Communications Agenda. We will deliver LANGUAGE FOR LIFE, our public outreach programme of activities and resources for parents/caregivers, the general public and practitioners to increase awareness of the importance of promoting early language, understanding typical and atypical language development, constructing optimal environments for language development, and the importance of applying effective interventions.

Practitioners in education and health, cultural and broadcasting services, and policy makers will benefit through our evidence-based advice on design of training for promoting language development and early literacy, as part of our Communications Agenda. We focus on three areas of influence: (1) MONITORING, we will work with our partners to develop effective and accessible progression tools for language development for use by early years practitioners, and we will communicate the importance of effective monitoring to policy makers; (2) TRAINING, we will work with our partners to provide access to evidence-based training programmes for parents/caregivers, early years practitioners in health and education, and primary school educators. We will communicate the importance of early years training to commissioners and policy makers, both regionally and nationally to influence and advise on policy; (3) EVALUATION, we will support practitioners and policy makers in selecting effective training and intervention programmes, and provide advice to organisations on effective methods for intervention assessments.

Businesses and practitioners will benefit from our Technology Agenda. We will collaborate with our partners to develop online monitoring tools for children's language development, and to generate automatic transcription software for child and adult speech, placing accessible tools in the hands of those who stand to use them on a daily basis.

Our User Advisory Board and Impact Strategy Group will comprise representatives from each of the constituencies that will benefit from our research, to ensure that our research communications are accessible, relevant, and responsive to the needs of parents/caregivers, practitioners, and policy makers. Our Impact and Outreach Officer will lead LANGUAGE FOR LIFE events organisation, provide regular contact with our partner organisations, and develop blogs and briefings for users of our research. Our Centre Manager will: liaise with our User Advisory Board and Impact Strategy Group; link with the Business, Media and Knowledge Exchange offices at Lancaster, Liverpool, and Manchester Universities; and supervise the activities of the Impact and Outreach Officer, in order to optimise the reach and effectiveness of the impact of our research.

Publications

10 25 50