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  • The significance of early social skills and communication for later language development


The significance of early social skills and communication for later language development - project description

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The purpose of this study was to look at the development from early social skills and non-verbal communication at 18 months to later language development at three and five years of age. The study also examined how factors in the child or the environment can explain the innate and environmental conditions for language development.

Foto: Getty image
Foto: Getty image



Several studies have shown that early non-verbal skills and social competence are related to later language competence. However, we still know little about the extent to which delayed early communication is an early marker for later persistent language delays, or if this indicates more serious and general developmental difficulties. We know that some child factors are related to language delay, e.g. that boys are more affected than girls, and that the risk increases if there is occurrence of speech and language delays in the family. Other child and family factors can also influence children’s language development, such as twin status, sibling position, parental educational level, economic status and young parental age. 

The study investigated:

  • How non-verbal and verbal communication skills at 18 months can inform about later language development and pathways of language delay from 3 to 5 years. 
  • How different child and family factors in can inform about innate and environmental conditions for the development of early communication skills and language. 
  • How early communication skills in the context of child and familial risk factors can predict the risk for language delay, various degrees of stability persistence of the delays.

The results have contributed to increased understanding of language development in general, as well as assisted in identifying children who will need additional assistance. 

The PhD project used data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study and was financed by the Extra Health and Rehabilitation Foundation.


The project started in February 2009 and ended in January 2012.

The project was led by Imac Zambrana in collaboration with Francisco Pons (Supervisor, University of Oslo) and Eivind Ystrøm (NIPH Supervisor). Other partners at the NIPH: Synnve Schjølberg, Henrik Zachrisson, Mari Vaage Wang, Ratib Lekhal.


Zambrana, Imac Maria; Ystrøm, Eivind; Schjølberg, Synnve, and Pons, Francisco. Action Imitation at 1½ Years Is Better Than Pointing Gesture in Predicting Late Development of Language Production at 3 Years of Age. Child development 2013, Volume 84, Issue 2, s. 560–573. (FHI, UiO)

Zambrana, Imac Maria; Pons, Francisco, Eadie, Patricia; Ystrøm , Eivind. Trajectories of language delay from age 3 to 5: persistence, recovery and late onset. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders: December 2013.

Zambrana, Imac Maria; Ystrøm, Eivind; Pons, Francisco. Impact of gender, maternal education, and birth order on the development of language comprehension: A population-based longitudinal cohort study from age 18 to 36 months. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: February/March 2012 - Volum 33 (2) s. 146–155. (FHI UiO)

Schjølberg, Synnve; Lekhal, Ratib; Wang, Mari Vaage; Zambrana, Imac Maria; Mathiesen, Kristin S.; Magnus, Per; Roth, Christine. Report 2008:10. Delayed language development. A current overview based on data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Folkehelseinstituttet (FHI)