Conversational language in 3-year-old children born very preterm and at term Academic Article uri icon


  • Purpose Language difficulties are prevalent among children born preterm. Existing studies have largely used standardized language tests, providing limited scope for detailed descriptive examination of preterm language. This study aimed to examine differences in conversational language between children born < 30 weeks and at term as well as correlations between language sample analysis (LSA) and a standardized language tool. Method Two hundred four 3-year-olds (103 born < 30 weeks, 101 born at term) recruited at birth provided a 10-min language sample and completed the Preschool Language Scales–Fifth Edition (I. Zimmerman, Steiner, & Pond, 2011). LSA was conducted using the Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts and Index of Productive Syntax. Group differences were analyzed using linear regression, and Pearson correlation coefficient (coef) was used to determine correlations between measures. Results Children born < 30 weeks scored lower than term-born peers on multiple metrics when controlled for confounding factors (sex, high social risk, multilingualism, and diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders), including mean length of utterance in morphemes (coef = –0.28, 95% confidence interval [CI] [–0.56, 0.01]) and words (coef = –0.29, 95% CI [–0.53, –0.05]), number of different word roots (coef = –10.04, 95% CI [–17.93, –2.14]), and Index of Productive Syntax sentence structures (coef = –1.81, 95% CI [–3.10, –0.52]). Other variables (e.g., number of utterances, number of nouns and adjectives) were not significantly different between groups. LSA and the Preschool Language Scales–Fifth Edition were at most moderately correlated (≤ .45). Conclusions Three-year-old children born preterm demonstrated poorer conversational language than children born at term, with some specific areas of deficit emerging. Furthermore, formal assessment and LSA appear to provide relatively distinct and yet complementary data to guide diagnostic and intervention decisions. Supplemental Material


  • Sanchez, Katherine
  • Spittle, AJ
  • Boyce, JO
  • Leembruggen, L
  • Mantelos, A
  • Mills, S
  • Mitchell, N
  • Neil, E
  • St John, M
  • Treloar, J
  • Morgan, AT

publication date

  • 2020