The Home Language Environment in Rural China: Variations Across Family Characteristics
A rich language environment is an important element of a nurturing home environment. Despite their proven importance, vocabulary and conversation have been shown to vary widely across households—even within the same socio-economic class. One significant gap in the existing literature is its nearly exclusive geographic focus on Western and developed settings, with little attention given to poorer communities in lower/middle income countries. The purpose of this study was to empirically illustrate the characteristics of the home language environment in the low SES, non-Western cultural setting of rural China.
Using Language Environment Analysis (LENA) automated language-analysis system, this study measured the home language environment of 38 children aged 20-27 months in Northwest rural China. Our primary measures of the home language environment were Adult Word Count (AWC), Conversational Turn Count (CTC) and Child Vocalization Count (CVC). Multivariate linear regression models were used to examine the association between home language environment and family/child characteristics, and language skills (Measured by MacArthur-Bates Communicative Developmental Inventory score).
In this paper, by comparison, we found that the home language environment of our rural sample fell far behind that of urban households. We also identify significant, positive correlations between language skills and both AWC and CTC. Our analysis finds no significant correlations between home language environment and family/child characteristics.
In this paper, we present the first ever findings using the LENA system to measure the home language environment of young children from poor rural communities in China. We found that the home language environment of lower-SES household was significantly worse than high-SES households, and demonstrated the importance of the home language environment to language skills, pointing to a need for more high-quality studies of the home language environment in rural China to better understand possible mechanisms behind low levels of parent-child language engagement and ways to improve the home language environment.