Their study looked at more than 120 children aged 21 months the time when they are learning new words at a faster rate than at any other stage of their life. It included questionnaires for parents and special tests of motor and cognitive abilities.
Dr Alcock said that an especially interesting finding was that children who were poor at moving their mouths were particularly weak at language skills, while those who were good at these movements had a range of language abilities. She believes that the findings could help child experts identify very early on those youngsters most likely to have problems with their understanding of words and speech in later life.
In experiments, the children were divided into four groups, and those in three of these were given more detailed testing in motor skills, understanding, or language and hearing.
The study found that in each group, some skills had closer relationships to language abilities than others. They also showed different patterns of relationships. For instance, there was no link when it came to easier movements, such as walking and running.
To assess spontaneous speech in a familiar place, researchers recorded everything said by children, and the person looking after them, during a half-hour free play session in each child's home. This was then analysed in terms of the range of words produced, and the length of sentences.
In a second group, children were assessed on a wide variety of thinking and reasoning skills: working out how to put puzzles together, matching picture
Contact: Annika Howard
Economic & Social Research Council