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The Pace of Vocabulary Growth Helps Predict Later Vocabulary Skill


  • The research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: P01HD40605 to Susan Goldin-Meadow and K99/R00HD055522 to Meredith L. Rowe. We thank the other faculty members on the Program Project, Larry Hedges, Janellen Huttenlocher, Susan Levine, and Steve Small for their intellectual contributions to the project; Kristi Schonwald and Jason Voigt for administrative and technical support; and Karyn Brasky, Laura Chang, Elaine Croft, Kristin Duboc, Jennifer Griffin, Sarah Gripshover, Kelsey Harden, Lauren King, Max Masich, Carrie Meanwell, Erica Mellum, Molly Nikolas, Jana Oberholtzer, Lilia Rissman, Becky Seibel, Meredith Simone, Calla Trofatter, Kevin Uttich, Julie Wallman, and Kristin Walters for helping in data collection and transcription. We are grateful to the participating children and families.

concerning this article should be addressed to Meredith L. Rowe, Department of Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park, 3304T Benjamin Building, College Park, MD 20742. Electronic mail may be sent to


Children vary widely in the rate at which they acquire words—some start slow and speed up, others start fast and continue at a steady pace. Do early developmental variations of this sort help predict vocabulary skill just prior to kindergarten entry? This longitudinal study starts by examining important predictors (socioeconomic status [SES], parent input, child gesture) of vocabulary growth between 14 and 46 months (= 62) and then uses growth estimates to predict children’s vocabulary at 54 months. Velocity and acceleration in vocabulary development at 30 months predicted later vocabulary, particularly for children from low-SES backgrounds. Understanding the pace of early vocabulary growth thus improves our ability to predict school readiness and may help identify children at risk for starting behind.