Lisa and Brian Thompson—both college-educated parents—pay close attention to their 20-month-old son Matthew’s development.
So when Infoture Inc., a Colorado-based research company, asked families to test a product that measures how much talking goes on between parents and children from birth to age 3, with the idea that the chattiest families have the most successful kids, the couple signed up.
Twice a week, the Thompsons slip a small purple gadget, about the size of an MP3 player, into a pocket in Matthew’s overalls and allow it to record every word he hears or says for up to 16 hours a day.
Software program tries to increase the amount you talk to your baby
The software-based system, called LENA (Language Environment Analysis), also captures the number of times Matthew initiates a conversation or responds to comments from his parents, while weeding out background television sounds or a sibling nearby.
Plugged into a laptop, the device then gives the Thompsons—and 144 other pilot parents in the US and UK— monthly, daily or hourly counts of words spoken, and how those counts compare with the average LENA child and the children of college-educated parents. Those children typically hear 21,000 to 30,000 words a day, said Jill Gilkerson, language research director at Infoture.
“I do think it forces us to speak more or interact with him more,” said Lisa Thompson, a real estate agent who said she underestimated how much they actually talked to Matthew. “If we have a day where, instead of 22,000 words, we’re down to 18,000 words, it’s like, ‘Oh, shoot. We’re slipping.’”
The product has been on the market for about two months and sells for $399 (about Rs16,000), which includes the monitoring device, two outfits with a pocket to hold the device, software and a stuffed elephant toy. Infoture officials said few sales have been recorded so far.
The LENA system has not yet been reviewed by independent researchers. No studies exist showing the program’s long-term results on children.
Infoture spent $16 million supplied by company founders Terrance and Judi Paul to develop the product over three years, said Mia Moe, marketing director for Infoture and daughter of the Pauls.
Terrance Paul said they were inspired to create LENA after reading the book, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of American Children, published in 1995 and based on a University of Kansas study by Todd Risley and Betty Hart.
That study found that children who heard more words before age 3 were more successful later in life than those who were seldom spoken to—regardless of their parents’ education level or the complexity of the words.
The key was the talking that occurred from birth to age 3, Risley said.
By the time some children started preschool, they had already heard 33 million words, compared to others who had heard 10 million, the research found.
“Those differences add up to massive advantages or disadvantages for children...long before they start preschool,” Risley said.
Terrance Paul said Infoture set out to create a device that would allow parents to “see” their child’s language environment and, by seeing it, improve it “through those critical first three years.”
Gilkerson said the types of words recorded by LENA don’t matter. “You don’t have to talk about the theory of relativity, just talk about what you’re seeing if you’re at the grocery store or if you’re doing laundry.”
A March study found that parents increased their word count 35% after getting feedback on LENA, compared with when they used the product and didn’t get feedback.
The New York Times. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org