Children born during the pandemic have slower language acquisition

The effects that the coronavirus pandemic may have had on the language development of the child population are still little known. A study carried out by scientists from the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) and published in Magazine Phonoaudiology, Phoniatrics and Audiology assesses vocabulary and morphosyntactic level in a sample of boys and girls aged 18 to 31 months.

As part of their study, the team examined developmental data from both vocabulary and morphosyntax —the ability to produce increasingly complex sentences—of 153 babies.

They compared data from two groups equal in age, in the educational level of the mothers and belonging to similar day care centers: the PRE Groupcomposed of children born and evaluated before the pandemicit’s him POST groupcomposed of children born between October 2019 and December 2020.

“The restrictions resulting from the pandemic limited the social interactions and relationship contexts of children in the POST group”, explain the authors. “The linguistic stimuli they received were affected by both reduction in the variety and frequency of social interactions such as the use of masks, which make understanding difficult and prevent us from taking advantage of visual information in language learning”.

Incoming linguistic stimuli were affected by reducing the variety and frequency of social interactions and the use of masks

study authors

According to the results, these circumstances may have contributed to slower language development in this group, compared to boys and girls of the same age who lived the first two years before the pandemic.

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early detection

The results obtained show lower scores in vocabulary and morphosyntactic development for the POST group compared to the PRE group, evaluated using the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory (CDI).

“These findings demonstrate the sensitivity of communicative and linguistic development to social context and highlight the importance of closely monitor language development in this group, especially those children who could be at greater risk of difficulties,” says Eva Murillo, co-author of the study.

The findings show the link between the development of communication and language with the social context

“Early detection of any difficulty in communication and language development facilitates early intervention, thus improving the prognosis”, adds the researcher. “In addition, this early detection also helps to reduce social costs medium and long-term interventions.

The exceptionality of the situation generated by the pandemic caused indirect effects the medium and long term that we now have to face. The Autonomous and Complutenses Universities of Madrid offer specialized training in this area through the Master in Specialization in Communicative and Linguistic Development in the Phase from 0 to 6 years old.


Murillo, E. et al. “The effect of the pandemic on language development in the first two years of life” Journal of Phonoaudiology, Phoniatrics and Audiology (2023)

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