Children from low-income backgrounds consistently perform below their more advantaged peers on standardized measures of language ability, setting long-term trajectories that translate into gaps in academic achievement. Our primary goals in this review are to describe how and why this is so, in order to focus attention on ways to enrich early language experiences across socioeconomic strata. We first review the literature on the relation between socioeconomic status (SES) and language ability across domains in early childhood. We then identify three potential pathways by which SES might influence language development—child characteristics, parent–child interaction, and availability of learning resources—recognizing the complicated interaction between the child's own language learning skill and his/her environmental support. Finally, we review interventions that target these three pathways with an eye toward best practice. Future research should focus on the diversity of contexts in which children acquire language and adopt methods of language measurement that are sensitive to cultural variation.


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