New research ignites debate on the “30 Million Word Gap”!

“30 Million Word Gap” is an initiative started for coping with the language learning differences among impoverished American family children. “30 Million Word Gap” is a legacy campaign run for the public service campaign study which is carried out under the name of “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children” commonly known as the “30 Million Word Gap” study. This study concluded that the children living in poverty hear fewer than a third of the words heard by the children from higher-income families, which had significant implications in the long run for the development and growth of children from impoverished backgrounds. When more such specific cases were drawn from general classes, assumptions were extracted that the word difference in the initial 4 years of an impoverished child’s life was around 30 million words as compared to those of a wealthy family child.

The alarming world gap, lead to such initiatives like “30 Million Word Gap” campaigns. In the 1990s, researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley studied families from different socioeconomic levels and found that children from varied socioeconomic backgrounds were exposed to majorly different numbers of words in their formative years. This research concluded a specific of 30-32 million more words were taught to the higher-income family children than the lower-income family children. This vast difference in vocabulary accounted for significant differences in the children’s language skills which were visible right from the kindergarten level. This difference had a deep impact on the longer run.

Vocabulary is important because its the basis of all language. It is like the raw building blocks that are used for expressing thoughts and ideas verbally, sharing information, understanding others, and making conversations to build relations. Thus this problem of skill differences among the children at the initial education levels was considered as an alerting sign or was important for eye-opening for the child’s growth and indirectly to the economy of the country as well.

Back in the 1990s, when this campaign was conducted and the results were published, the results had a greater impact on the national policies, and reform activities which resulted in many investments for closing or decreasing the “30 Million Word Gap” in the early education phase which included many newly imposed reading programs, collabs between education and health sectors.

The original campaign of the “30 Million Word Gap” was debunked by the researchers Douglas Sperry and his wife Linda. The latest and new research on the “30 Million Word Gap” was found to have lesser true connections and conclusions between the number of words children hear and learn from the family and the connection with their socioeconomic background.

Some influential people on social media also believe that the new debates which are initiated on the “30 Million Word Gap”, are true and that the low-income kids(mostly skin colour difference based) suffer a loss of 30 million words, which is believed a myth based on bigoted ideas. Some people believe that this research was based on inflated research; which was colour-based study and it directly relates to black people who are referred to lower-income groups.

New questions which are raised about the old research of the “30 Million Word Gap”, conclude roughly that :

  • The sample of families was too small to sustain the movement and announce such a huge gap of friends based on fewer samples.
  • Various critics questioned whether there were larger issues of bias and system based inequalities during the campaign that influenced the conclusions of the word gap and the relation with the socioeconomic background of the family.
  • Researcher also provided an example for the newly raised debatable questions related to the previous research, that if a family does not have originally an American background, still residing in American housing project, might find it difficult to answer questions for an experiemnt conducted regarding their socioeconomic background and income. It might be for their best intentions but anyone would have doubts if being video taped without a clear disclosure of a clear purpose and intent.
  • Debatable questions focus exclusively on conversations betwen parnt and child that do not account for cultural differences, economic background or the way of communication between a child and parents.
  • Racial or colour differences should not be included in a research which is directly connected to education and betterment of the society.

Even though the original research was conducted for better results and betterment of children and the vocabulary they learn from the family, many people found it biased or had issues with it thus making it debatable. It is often made clear that the initial or the original study and the movement or the campaign which was built around the word gap had a general idea of boosting the development of children in their care by speaking with them and not targeted on any biases of family’s economic background. Thus making the original idea clear, many researchers have come to terms of the agreement on the original idea of the campaign.

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