02/09/2014 10:49 EST | Updated 04/11/2014 05:59 EDT

RI capital city goes high-tech with $5M effort to reduce word gap in low-income children

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Rhode Island's capital city has begun an effort to boost language skills in children from low-income families by equipping them with audio recorders that count every word they hear.

The initiative, called Providence Talks, uses small digital recorders that fit into a child's clothing. During home visits, social workers go over the word counts with parents and suggest tips to boost children's language skills.

The voluntary program began last month with 75 families and hopes to serve 2,000 families in 2016.

Studies show children from poorer families enter school having heard millions of fewer words than more affluent children, a disadvantage that can hurt school performance and occupational opportunities later on.

Providence beat out 300 other cities to win $5 million in funding from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.