Late Talker

Late Talker-Project

Fundamental milestones of language acquisition are achieved in the third year of life. In this period, children stand out who do not pass these stages with the same ease as their normally developing counterparts. It is still difficult to distinguish those children who will overcome the initial delay from those who will show persistent language impairments. Research on late talkers has successfully identified some risk factors, i.e. characteristics that indicate whether an improvement is to be expected or whether the presence of persisting language impairment is likely. However, current research does not yet support prioritizing or weighting these characteristics (Olswang et al. 1998).

In the Late Talker Project at Potsdam University, we have set out to investigate the course of language development in German children with normal and delayed language development in the third year of life. A detailed description of language acquisition in normally developing children (ND) serves as the baseline for comparison with late-talking children (LT). Children’s linguistic abilities are examined in all linguistic domains, considering quantitative and qualitative aspects of language performance as well as the availability of learning mechanisms. The aim is to identify critical areas of language development for German, where LT diverge from ND.

Monolingual children with normal and delayed language development participate in an ongoing longitudinal study. The children are recruited at 2;0; they are seen at ages 2;2, 2;4 and 2;6, and at 3;0 for follow-up. Data are obtained from several sources: observational data (vocabulary checklist, Grimm & Doil 2000), elicitation data (patholinguistic assessment: Kauschke & Siegmüller 2002; SETK II: Grimm 2000), and spontaneous speech data. See table for an overview of the procedure.

age Tests: Lexicon Tests: Grammar Miscellaneous
2;0 Vocabulary checklist (ELFRA)
2;2 Word comprehension (nouns, verbs) Sentence comprehension (subtest from SETK II, Wh-questions part 1) Case history
Spontaneous speech
2;4 Word production (body parts, verbs)
Categorization task
Fast mapping
Sentence comprehension (acting out task; Wh-questions part 2) Vocabulary checklist (repetition)
Spontaneous speech
2;6 Word comprehension (repetition)
Word production (nouns, verbs)
Sentence comprehension (SETK II repetition)
Sentence production (picture description)
Counselling for LT: Prognosis, Recommendation concerning intervention
3;0 Word production (adjectives, prepositions)
Fast mapping (repetition)
Sentence comprehension (sentence-picture-mapping)
Production of definite articles
Sentence production (picture description)
Spontaneous speech

Late Talkers are identified at 2;0, when they meet the criterion of less than 100 words and/or no word combinations. The LT pass the same procedure as the ND children. At age 2;6, a prognosis is formulated by means of a comparison with the ND data. When the child is considered at risk for persisting language impairment, intervention is recommended.

The intervention is individually designed and carried out by a trained speech-language pathologist. The intervention aims to bring about gains in communicative behaviour as well as in lexical and grammatical development. Fields of early intervention are:

  • Communicative competence
  • Acquisition of words, enhancement of receptive and expressive lexicon (word comprehension and production)
    • Relational words
    • Nouns
    • Verbs
  • Concept formation, semantic organisation and categorisation
  • Production of word combinations
  • Comprehension and production of sentences
To achieve these goals, three procedures are combined in complementary fashion: focused stimulation, elicited production/comprehension and recasting. The course of intervention is recorded for every child in order to observe further development and to evaluate the efficacy of treatment.

Student assistants in the Late Talker-Project:
Antje Richter
Manuela Koch

Prof. Dr. Christina Kauschke
Philipps-Universität Marburg
Institut für Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft
Pilgrimstein 16
D-35032 Marburg