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Canadian Language & Literacy Research Network
clarity. The result of applying science to children's language and literacy development  

getting the word out

Early language development experts focus on picking up the pace in turning research into practice.

family history: the oldest potential remedy?

It's the age-old way of getting the word out — tell someone and have them tell someone. So simple. Always effective. And now this old-fashioned concept is the basis of a novel research project that is aimed at getting young children talking.

A team of scientists with The Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network is turning to word-of-mouth — backed by a lot of high-tech support — to transfer early language development research into practice in child care centres across the country. The goal is to pick up the pace of putting new ideas to work and enhance language development for children in care. Currently, that pace tends to be staggeringly slow — 10 to 15 years from the time research is reported to when it is put into practice.

“In my experience, you can write books, you can write pamphlets and distribute the pamphlets wisely, but it's not the same as talking and getting people heated up through discussion. That's what we're doing,” explains Luigi Girolametto, a Network researcher and coordinator of graduate studies and associate professor in the graduate department of Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Toronto.

A growing number of young children are spending the majority of their waking hours in day care centres. When a child is in care full-time, relationships with non-parental adults become increasingly important for shaping language learning experiences.

A series of studies by Girolametto and Network co-investigator Elaine Weitzman, executive director of The Hanen Centre, have investigated the nature of caregivers' language input to young children in community child care centres. As a national organization providing early language intervention programs and learning resources for caregivers and professionals, The Hanen Centre is a valuable partner with The Network. Research has found that training child care staff in early language development strategies effectively improves educator-child interactions and promotes more language use and peer interactions.

As Network researchers, Girolametto and Weitzman are testing a new approach to research dissemination that targets child care providers.

“This project is showing what front-line day care workers can do to help children become effective language users,” says Donald G. Jamieson, Network CEO and scientific director.   “Effective communication lays a solid foundation for school and life success. However, it's not enough merely to understand the process of language development. We need to have such knowledge actually put into practice.”

In October 2002, The Network funded a unique symposium that brought together eight leading researchers studying how language emerges in children who are in group care. The researchers were able to share their findings and discuss strategies for facilitating language development in those settings.

Proceedings from the symposium are available in hard copy by writing to , and in electronic form by accessing The Network Web site at

Girolametto and Weitzman carefully chose 40 people to attend the symposium. They were administrators of child care centres, professors of university and college programs responsible for training child care providers, and speech language pathologists who consult with child care centres. It was a hand-picked audience of professionals who were in a position to directly implement suggestions highlighted at the symposium, says Girolametto.

And that's just a start. It's the second phase of their project that The Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network team is counting on to make the difference.

Later this year, a follow-up workshop will be held to discuss implementation of the research. The Network team will invite speech language pathologists who work with child care centres. The speech language pathologists will be encouraged to bring along a child care supervisor with whom they've developed a relationship.

Unlike other workshops for professional education, this one will be free.

“What we're trying to do here is facilitate the transfer of knowledge,” says Girolametto. “We're hoping to see the supervisors and speech language pathologists go back to their day care centres and arrange for in-service training, coaching, modeling, whatever procedures they feel would be best, for day care staff to implement changes.

“The training is so important because it can have a dramatic impact on the way child care providers interact with children and therefore on children's language and literacy development.”

The skills needed to help children develop language and literacy, “are not naturally part of every child care provider's repertoire,” says Weitzman. “But much of our research has shown that, with training, it can become part of their repertoire.”

One advantage of this Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network project is the link to Weitzman's Hanen Centre, which has an established network of speech language pathologists around the world trained by the centre and certified to use Hanen programs. One such training program is Learning Language and Loving It — The Hanen Program® for Early Childhood Educators, a research-based, intensive program which teaches child care providers how to promote children's language and literacy development.

The follow-up workshop for this fall will act as an experimental template for what Girolametto and Weitzman would like to do in cities across Canada. Each workshop would be followed by questionnaires to see who is making changes, the kind of changes being made, and if this old-fashioned word-of-mouth idea can make a difference in the language development of young children.


family history: the oldest potential remedy?