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The results of a new speech test suggest that a limited vocabulary at the age of two years can signal language development problems which persist into later life.

Scientists at the Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania have devised a speech test for children which compares their speaking ability against a checklist of 310 basic words. Most toddlers have a vocabulary of between 75 and 225 words but around 15 per cent are “late talkers” who use less than 50 words. These children then go on to perform less well in tests measuring language and reading skills at age 17, even though they do not show developmental problems in other areas.

Speaking at a conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Dr Leslie Rescorla, who led the study, said that low scores on the checklist could highlight an "enduring relative weakness in the area of early language development and hence later language skills." Identifying late talkers could enable parents and practitioners to establish interventions to speed up their child’s language development.

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