Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Influence of Language Nutrition on Children’s Language and Cognitive Development: An Integrated Review

Zauche, L.H., Thul, T.A., Darcy-Mahoney, A.E., Stapel-Wax, J.L. (2016) Influence of Language Nutrition on Children's Language and Cognitive Development: An Integrated Review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 318-333. ,

Access: Institutional Access

Publication year


study description

Integrated review of the literature.

core topic(s)

Early Literacy , Shared Reading

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Brain/Neurocognitive , Child Development (general) , Language and Literacy Development , School Readiness and Educational Outcomes


This integrated review was conducted to evaluate the influence of language nutrition, through talking, interacting, or reading, in early childhood and language or cognitive development.


Language Nutrition.

outcomes evaluated

Early childhood language and cognitive development.


Articles published from 1990–2014 were identified through PubMed, CINAHL, and Web of Science databases and through reference lists of identified articles. Of the 1273 articles identified, 103 articles met the search criteria.

sample size

n=103 (articles)




Of the 1273 articles identified, 103 articles met the search criteria. Aspects of speech, including the quantity of words, lexical diversity, linguistic and syntactical complexity, intonation, and prosody, all contribute to the comprehension and production of language through enhancing speech processing, phonemic awareness, word segmentation, and knowledge of grammatical rules. In addition to features of language, the delivery of language contributes to variance in developmental outcomes. Language delivered in the context of an adult–child interaction characterized by responsiveness and positive regard helps to scaffold a child’s learning and encourages verbal behaviors. Additionally, shared reading increases language and literacy skills by introducing new vocabulary and facilitating dialogue between children and adults.


In conclusion, studies consistently demonstrate that quantity and quality of talking, interacting, and reading with a child in the first three years of life are strongly associated with language and cognitive development as well as school readiness and academic performance. As a result, interventions aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of language nutrition have the potential to leverage dramatic results for children’s developmental outcomes.


There is a possibility that some eligible articles were not captured by the literature search and thus are not included in this review. Although three databases were searched in a comprehensive and systematic way, there are more than three databases that could have been used to search for articles. Because six reviews were included in this study, a few studies are represented more than once. However, reviews were only cited when they contributed additional evidence that did not involve an individual study already included in this review. Additionally, only one author identified and selected articles from the search. Although the protocol for selecting articles consistently followed the guidelines set by three authors at the beginning of the review, discrepancies about the inclusion of articles at any stage of selection could have arisen if more than one author identified eligible articles. Furthermore, significant methodological differences across studies makes it more difficult to assess the strength of these findings. Sample characteristics, primary study variables, and metrics used to assess parent and child language were not consistent between studies. As such, meta-analysis was not possible. Another limitation of this review was that it looked specifically at language and cognitive development of children and did not consider the influences of language nutrition on children’s socioemotional development, self-regulation, and other developmental domains. While language and cognition represent distinct domains of development, children’s development does not occur in siloes. Benefits of language nutrition on children’s socioemotional development or self-regulation may indirectly contribute to children’s language or cognitive development.