Education experts have developed a simple language test that can predict whether five-year-old children will have learning difficulties when they're older.
The key is a child's verbal communication skills: if they are able to use different tenses then they will be able to learn to write more easily a year later.
The test could be used to identify children likely to have problems with writing, or problems with spelling and grammar later on.
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The study's author, Professor Phaedra Royle, of Montreal University in Canada, said: "The more children are able to use verb tense in spoken language, the more easily they can learn written language."
The study looked at 71 children attending French language schools - 33 of whom were multi-lingual.
They were tested on their ability to change a verb into its different forms when speaking out loud in the first year they started school, before having their writing skills tested a year later at the end of their second year at school.
As part of the writing tests, they were asked to dictate a passage and asked to choose the right spellings in a sentence such as 'Paul has a friend'.
The researchers found that being able to grasp some of the rules of grammar in spoken language – such as understanding how words are formed and being able to manipulate parts of the word to put it into a different tense – can predict possible spelling and grammar difficulties in writing.
The study is the first of its kind in which children's abilities to use tenses were measured before they were able to write.
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