Can infant vocabulary measures predict later reading skills?

Learning to read is critical to cultural, social and economic well-being. It is an uncomfortable fact that a reasonable number of children in the UK fail to attain adequate levels of literacy. This project will explore to what extent reading skills during the early school years are a reflection of the speed and proficiency in vocabulary development during the first two years of life.

Over recent years, the researchers have collected approximately 5000 assessments of infant vocabulary development at 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 24 months of age. These assessments were made using a parental checklist known as the Oxford Communicative Development Inventory (OCDI). This project will comprise a follow-up study of these infants, who are now primary school pupils aged 4 to 11 years.

Children will complete a range of tests devised to evaluate their reading skills and other aspects of linguistic and cognitive development. The project aims to determine whether children’s performance on these tests is related to their early infant vocabulary profiles. It will also consider whether other aspects of their early environment influence the relationship between vocabulary and reading outcomes.

If we can identify a relationship between early vocabulary development and later reading skills, this will allow us to identify children who are at risk of low achievement in literacy. Assessment of vocabulary development at an early age would then allow us to use intervention schemes for nursery school children, aiming to accelerate their vocabulary development and later literacy achievement, and their associated quality of life.

Project details



Professor Kate Nation and Professor Kim Plunkett, University of Oxford

Funding programme:


Grant amount and duration:


1 April 2012 – 31 March 2015