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Yvonne Wren interviewed for Radio 4’s “Why Can’t Our Children Talk?”

woman and child play with blocks together

23 January 2019

Dr Yvonne Wren, Senior Research Fellow in the Dental School and Director of Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit at Southmead Hospital has been interviewed for a Radio 4 programme titled ‘Why Can’t Our Children Talk?’

The programme is due to be broadcast on Tuesday 5th of February at 11:00am and will be available via the BBC Radio 4 website:

The BBC released the following preview:

Why Can’t Our Children Talk?

Teachers all over the country report that children are arriving at school unable to communicate properly. They have limited vocabulary, no eye contact, don’t know nursery rhymes or stories, may not even know their own address. A poll carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers revealed that for 97% of respondents this was a cause of great concern.

Kim Normanton, producer of the programme, herself observed children struggling to understand conversation or follow verbal instructions when she was teaching in a state primary reception class. “One day the whiteboard was broken and it was hopeless trying to get them to focus to teach them anything.”

Why it matters is that children who start school with reduced language skills never recover. Research which has been carried out by the team at Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit, with data from ALSPAC, found that children’s vocabulary size at age 2 predicts their academic achievement right up to age 16. Moreover, children arriving at school with limited language skills are twice as likely to be unemployed later in life.

Why it’s happening is a matter of debate; there’s little clear evidence. Most people blame screen time. But maybe screens are a symptom, not a cause. In this feature, Kim Normanton sets out to explore what’s going on, talking to teachers and parents and language researchers. She visits schemes in Liverpool, Yorkshire and Stoke-on-Trent which are trying to intervene and boost the language skills of young children. What’s certain is that problems start very early on; maybe we need to look more closely at how we talk to very young children, and babies, right from the start.

Further information

Read publications by Dr Yvonne Wren on Explore Bristol Research

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