OBJECTIVE: To test the independent association of adult language input, television viewing, and adult-child conversations on language acquisition among infants and toddlers.
METHODS: Two hundred seventy-five families of children aged 2 to 48 months who were representative of the US census were enrolled in a cross-sectional study of the home language environment and child language development (phase 1). Of these, a representative sample of 71 families continued for a longitudinal assessment over 18 months (phase 2). In the cross-sectional sample, language development scores were regressed on adult word count, television viewing, and adult-child conversations, controlling for socioeconomic attributes. In the longitudinal sample, phase 2 language development scores were regressed on phase 1 language development, as well as phase 1 adult word count, television viewing, and adult-child conversations, controlling for socioeconomic attributes.
RESULTS: In fully adjusted regressions, the effects of adult word count were significant when included alone but were partially mediated by adult-child conversations. Television viewing when included alone was significant and negative but was fully mediated by the inclusion of adult-child conversations. Adult-child conversations were significant when included alone and retained both significance and magnitude when adult word count and television exposure were included.
CONCLUSIONS: Television exposure is not independently associated with child language development when adult-child conversations are controlled. Adult-child conversations are robustly associated with healthy language development. Parents should be encouraged not merely to provide language input to their children through reading or storytelling, but also to engage their children in two-sided conversations.