First ever UK based language tool to decode baby talk

Toys for child language learningA tool which could radically improve the diagnosis of language delays in infants in the UK is being developed by psychologists.

A £358,000 grant to develop the first standardised UK speech and language development tool means that for the first time, researchers will be able to establish language development norms for UK children aged eight months to 18 months.

The tool will plug an important gap which has left UK researchers, education and health professionals at a disadvantage.

The work is a collaboration between the universities of Lincoln, Lancaster and Liverpool.
Until now, UK language experts have been forced to rely upon more complicated methods of testing child language development, or on methods designed for American English speakers which can lead to UK babies being misdiagnosed as being delayed in language development.

The two-and-a-half year project funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) will also look into the impact of family income and education on UK children’s language development, as well as examining differences between children learning UK English, and other languages and English dialects.

The project is expected to make a major contribution to language development research as well as to the effectiveness of speech and language therapy and improved policy making.

Researchers are keen to hear from parents with children under 18 months to take part in the study.
They are also particularly interested in hearing from English dialect speakers such as families from Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from parents who left school early.

Dr Kerstin Meints from the University of Lincoln will be working on the project alongside fellow language development specialists Dr Katie Alcock of Lancaster University, who is leading the research team, and Dr Caroline Rowland of the University of Liverpool.

They will develop a UK Communicative Development Inventory (UK-CDI) which will consist of a checklist of a wide variety of children’s communication abilities in using and understanding speech and gesture, which can be quickly and easily filled in by parents.

Once the tool is developed researchers will use it to carry out large scale studies of babies and toddlers in the UK. This wealth of new UK-specific data will enable parents and professionals to pick up on problems more easily by comparing a child’s progress against national averages.

Dr Meints, from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln, said: “The first few years of life are the most important when it comes to language acquisition, yet it is difficult to test the language abilities of very young children.
“In other countries, researchers have for many years been using a type of standardised test called a Communicative Development Inventory. In these countries, speech therapists and researchers, parents, teachers and doctors use CDIs to measure and assess how language abilities of children as young as eight months compare to established norms.
“However, there is currently no standardised CDI for UK English. At the moment, researchers in Britain rely on a range of adapted versions of the CDI for US English. This is far from ideal and, studies have suggested, may actually lead to some British children being misdiagnosed as language delayed.
“This research project will close that gap. Not only will we develop an official CDI for UK English, we will also build a database of language development norms for British children, which we will make freely available worldwide through an online database.
“This will represent an important new resource for academics, health professionals,and child care and early education  providers. It will also enable researchers to make accurate comparisons with other languages and enable policy-makers to ensure as a society we give our children the best possible start in life.
“When complete, this new research will directly improve the UK research on child speech and language development and make a substantial contribution to the wellbeing of children and families in the UK.”

Anyone wishing to take part in the study should contact the research team at: or visit the project website:


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Ian Richards - PR OfficerIan Richards – PR Officer
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