Western Australia will lead the world's biggest, longest and most comprehensive study of language and literacy development after being awarded a prestigious international grant involving The University of Western Australia and two US universities.
The ‘Looking at Language study' at Perth's UWA-affiliated Telethon Institute for Child Health Research has been extended a further five years after a third successive funding renewal from the US National Institutes of Health.
The project, which began in 2002, is an international collaboration between the Telethon Institute, Kansas University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The research group has followed the development of 1000 sets of WA twins from their first words. Extended funding will enable researchers to continue to monitor the twins as they develop through adolescence. In addition to formal language tests, researchers have collected genetic and environmental data as well as assessments with the twins' siblings.
Principal Investigator UWA Professor Cate Taylor said the study will answer fundamental questions about how and when children learn to talk, and what can be done to help those who struggle.
"We know most children start to talk between 12 and 24 months but have no idea why some children begin much later," Professor Taylor said.
"This is the first study that will be able to compare early language development with language ability in adolescence, when language is at near-adult levels.
"If we could predict those language difficulties that were going to persist, then we could be much more focussed and helpful in providing effective early therapies for children.
"By looking at twins and their families, we have an unprecedented amount of data around genetic and environmental influences on language. We will also be able to look at the effect of being a twin in how language emerges."
Professor Taylor said she was overwhelmed by the commitment of families involved in the study.
"This type of research is possible only because hundreds of families have committed their time and energy to helping us unlock the mysteries of language," she said.
"We are very grateful for their support and hope they are as thrilled as we are to be involved in a study of such international significance."
The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health under Award Number RO1DC05226.