Language, self-control, and poverty

I’m reading a fascinating article right now about the possible role of language in supporting delayed gratification, the strength of which has been shown to be a strong predictor of success. (Children who are able to resist eating a cookie for longer end up being much more successful than those who simply gobble the cookie down).

However, it’s this statement that left me stunned:

…by the age of three, children from professional families actually have larger recorded vocabularies than the parents of the welfare families.

That’s astonishing, although I’d recently read that many British teens use no more than 500 words their day-to-day conversations, which is about the same number of words my 23-month-old knows and uses. If I were a teen who knew that my vocabulary was no larger than that of a toddler, I’d grab a dictionary pronto. But they likely don’t care, and aren’t even cognitively able to care, about their poor vocabularies.

The import, of course, is that the children of families with impoverished vocabularies end up trapped in a vicious cycle. As the article points out:

How many words a child knows is not simply a rootless number, with little bearing on subsequent education and achievement. Many psychologists believe that vocabulary is a core marker of general intelligence, and performance on vocabulary inventories and indices is highly correlated with IQ scores. Taken together, these findings paint a bleak picture in which a child’s intelligence – her capacity for subsequent learning – even her ability to distract herself in the cookie task – all may be intimately bound up with her early experience with language.

Which reminds me, it’s time to update Malkias’s word list.

2 thoughts on “Language, self-control, and poverty”

  1. I supose it depends on how we measure sucsess.With teenagers it’s not that most don’t have the volcabury but that they don’t use it.I recall that Dr winston did a series where he followed the developement of children over at that time 10 years. Those who did well at an early stage chanfed dramatically during the following years particullarly those who began by being empathic.Some became subject to neurosises and others found that they were bullied and learnt to ignore empathic impulses.Those who delayed satisfaction found that they often missed out entirely and that the one who insisted on instant gratification was outgoing and the most sucsessful. It was certainly an eye opener.Sucsses was gaged by who was the one most wanted as a friend had no neurosisess and was generally happy and did well in school.

  2. i wrote about this study awhile back, too. while interesting, the study is not an absolute predictor of lifetime success. there are plenty of examples of children who fulfill the “delayed gratification” and “large vocabularies” criteria who still become failures as adults due to reasons of mental illness or other health problems, lack of family support, etc., etc., etc.

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