Why Early Talk?
Conversational turns build brains.
Conversational turns are simple back-and-forth alternations between a child and an adult. LENA technology counts that a turn has occurred when an adult speaks and a child follows, or vice versa, with no more than five seconds in between. Any speech-like, non-cry sound counts as a turn — from an infant's coos to a toddler's words (either real or made up). Conversational turns are LENA’s proxy for quality “serve and return” interactions.
How are conversational turns related to
early brain development?
They may be simple, but conversational turns are also incredibly powerful. Conversational turns are among the most predictive metrics of child outcomes.
Conversational turns are linked to the strength of white matter connections between two key language regions in the brain, according to a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Read more about how conversational turns are connected to brain structure! A second study in the Journal of Neuroscience links conversational turns as early as six months of age to white matter myelination at two years of age. Read about this study in Early Learning Nation!
Conversational turns are linked to activation in Broca's area of the brain, a well-known language center, according to a paper published in the journal Psychological Science. Read more about how conversational turns are connected to brain function!
Conversational turns are linked to increased surface area of the left perisylvian cortex, an area of the brain associated with language comprehension and reading skills, according to a paper published in the journal Child Development. Read more about how conversational turns are connected to reading skills! Another study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience links conversational turns in the first two years of life to higher scores on standardized pre-literacy assessments at five years of age. Read the full paper!
Conversational turns in the first three years of life are linked to higher IQ scores in middle school, according to a paper published in the journal Pediatrics. Read more about how conversational turns are connected to IQ scores!
Conversational turns are linked to increased emotional regulation, attachment, and emotional communication, according to a paper published in the journal Developmental Science. Read more about how conversational turns are connected to social-emotional development!
Language, executive functioning, and reasoning scores
Conversational turns are linked to cortical growth in language and social processing regions of the brain, according to a paper published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Read more about how conversational turns are connected to language, executive functioning, and reasoning scores!
Conversational turns are linked to preschoolers' vocabulary skills, according to a paper published in the journal Infant and Child Development. Read more about how conversational turns are connected to vocabulary skills!
Importantly, there's overwhelming evidence that conversational turns have more brain-building power than adult words alone. (That’s why you won’t see references to the “30 million word gap” on our website — the term has increasingly become outdated due to the latest science on early language environments.)
Video highlights: Recent studies highlight the importance of conversational turns
Dr. Rachel Romeo and a team of researchers at MIT and Harvard published two papers examining how conversational turns relate to children’s brain structure and brain function. The first paper shed light into the underlying neural mechanism that makes conversational turns so critical for early brain development, identifying a relationship between conversational turns and activation in Broca’s area, a language center in the brain.
The findings in the second paper indicate that conversational turns strengthen white matter “information highways” in the brain, allowing the whole brain to work together better.
Click below to stream a webinar all about how conversational turns support brain structure and function!
Dr. Jill Gilkerson, LENA’s Chief Research and Evaluation Officer, led a team that published the results of a 10-year longitudinal study in the fall of 2018, exploring how conversational turns relate to a child’s long-term outcomes. The study found a correlation between the amount of conversation turns experienced between 18-24 months of age and a child’s verbal abilities, language skills, and IQ scores in adolescence.
Dr. Kim Noble led a team at Teachers College, Columbia University, to study the relationship between family socioeconomic background, children’s brain structure, and children’s reading skills. The study found that children who experienced more conversational turns had greater surface area on the left perisylvian cortex, and in turn, better reading skills.
Dr. Esteban Gómez Muzzio and Dr. Katharine Strasser published the results of their study about the importance of conversational turns for socioemotional development in 2021. The paper, conducted through the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, found a strong correlation between conversational turns at 18 months of age and socioemotional development at 30 months of age.
Based on 1,500 hours of daylong recordings from 91 preschoolers in 23 classrooms across 15 child care centers, lead author Dr. Robert Duncan and his colleagues at Purdue University established an association between conversational turns and vocabulary skills. “For all of us who care about the millions of children who spend most of their waking hours in child care, this is a call to action,” said Dr. Jill Gilkerson, Chief Research and Evaluation Officer at LENA.
Lead author Dr. Elizabeth Huber and other researchers at the University of Washington’s I-LABS used LENA technology to measure babies' language environments and MRIs to examine white matter development in the brain. “Conversational experience as early as six months is predicting what the brain looks like at age two years,” Huber told Early Learning Nation. “It was striking to me how early and potentially long-lasting these effects are.”
LENA programs put research into action, changing communities for the better worldwide.
LENA technology — the only validated measure of conversational turns in the world — powers the research discoveries that prove the importance of conversational turns. The same technology also powers LENA's programs for parents and teachers, helping caregivers everywhere tap into the brain-building potential of conversational turns.
If you're interested in learning more about bringing a LENA program to your community, please send us an email or schedule a meeting. We also invite you to complete a program readiness assessment to see where you are on your LENA journey. If you're a researcher and you want to learn more about incorporating LENA technology into your work, LENA SP is the tool for gaining early language insights in research and clinical applications.