Bloomberg Philanthropies announced yesterday that Providence, RI had won its Mayors Challenge competition for ideas to improve city life with "Providence Talks," an innovative proposal for vocabulary intervention in infancy and early childhood.

Vocabulary acquisition in infancy and early childhood has been identified as a key factor in children's success since 1995, when researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley showed in a landmark study that the number of words children know by age three is a) unequivocally predictive of their future success, and b) determined by socioeconomic status, with children in poverty knowing fewer words than working class children who in turn know fewer than children in the middle class.

The Providence plan calls for a combination of vocabulary monitoring and parent coaching of voluntary participants. As described in The New York Times, "The children who participate in the program would wear a small device called a digital language processor that would record their daily interactions with adults. Those would then be converted into audio files containing the day’s adult word count and the number of conversational turns. That data would be used to help parents in monthly coaching sessions improve the quality of their conversations to improve their children’s vocabulary."

"Early results demonstrate that simple access to information can be powerful," Providence Mayor Angel Taveras wrote in a description of the proposal in The Huffington Post, in which he cited a pilot study that showed "caretakers presented with data on their child's vocabulary development increased their adult daily word count by 55% on average."

Can a simple intervention of this nature really make a significant change? We at can't wait to find out.