There is growing public awareness that the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families occurs much before children reach kindergarten. Many children growing up in poverty enter school with a serious learning disadvantage that emerges in their earliest years—substantially smaller vocabularies than their more advantaged peers. This disparity in child vocabulary size between groups is often traced to low exposure to talk in children’s home and child care environments. This “Word Gap” in language exposure often translates to a deficit in vocabulary growth that increases over time, and leads to disparities in academic achievement during their school years and later in lower earnings and family stability in adulthood.

While research has pointed to evidence-based interventions to improve children’s language learning environments and thereby reduce this word gap, this knowledge has had limited population-level impacts. The Bridging the Word Gap Research Network (BWGRN) was charged with articulating a stakeholder-informed agenda to help close the word gap. This document was based on the Bridging the Word Gap conceptual model and informed by more than 1,000 responses to an online survey conducted in the summer of 2015. The National Research Agenda is now open for public comment. If you would like to share your thoughts on the National Research Agenda, please send an email to

The Top Ten Bridging the Word Gap Research Priorities:

  1. Developing new language-promoting strategies for parents/family members
  2. Incorporating home language and culture into language-promoting strategies
  3. Examining existing language-promoting strategies to determine which are most effective
  4. Determining which language-promoting strategies work best for specific groups of children or families
  5. Identifying ways in which families’ strengths help them support children’s language growth
  6. Incorporating the input of end-users of language-promoting strategies to increase their practicality and usefulness
  7. Identifying effective ways to convey the message about the importance of talking to children, parents, caregivers, and the public at large
  8. Developing new language-promoting strategies aimed at early education teachers and child care providers
  9. Identifying risk factors that affect parent and other caregivers’ engagement in language-promoting strategies
  10. Identifying ways in which community organizations can work with families to reduce the word gap