MIAMI, June 7, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- By age three, children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families. This "word gap" widens over time and can have serious consequences for a child's language proficiency, academic performance and, ultimately, career success.
To reduce the word gap among Hispanic children and promote bilingualism, FIU professor Melissa Baralt created a Spanish-language mobile app to help parents track and improve their child's vocabulary growth.
The app, Háblame Bebé (or Talk to Me, Baby) was chosen from more than 100 entries nationally to receive $75,000 as part of the Bridging the Word Gap Challenge, an initiative launched by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to support technology that improves early language development among low-income children.
"When we talk to babies, we are growing neuronal connections in their brains," said Baralt, an associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages, part of the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs. "We must begin talking to infants as early as possible, even as early as the prenatal period. As parents are with babies in the most critical early months, they are baby's first and best teachers."
Baralt, an affiliated faculty member in FIU's Center for Children and Families, chose to focus on Hispanic children because of the benefits of bilingualism in linguistic development. In her research in Miami-Dade County day care centers, she observed Spanish-speaking caregivers speaking only in English to the children.
Encouraging parents and caregivers to speak to children in their native language can decrease the word gap and improve vocabulary, Baralt said. Hers was the only project in the word gap challenge to focus on a minority population.
Háblame Bebé provides users with 20 daily routines to help parents engage in "language nutrition," or language-rich interactions, with their children, such as talking to the baby, narrating what is happening around the child and using varied syntax and words.
The app includes a daily talk time tool to allow users to track the total time a child talks in Spanish and English. Users can rate and track what words the baby knows at various developmental stages. They also can share the baby's progress through social media.
Baralt collaborated with Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, a neonatal nurse practitioner from George Washington University, and Natalie Brito, a psychologist from Columbia University, on the project. Háblame Bebé is similar to an English-only app developed in Atlanta, Talk With Me Baby, that targets public health workers, nurses and educators.
Háblame Bebé will be available as a free app for iPhones and Android phones this year.
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SOURCE Florida International University